As gasoline costs continue to rise and the environmental effects of traditional fossil fuels have become a greater concern, interest in alternative fuel sources such as biofuel has grown and expanded. Biofuel is defined as fuel that is produced from renewable biological resources, such as plants and algae. The most common biofuels in use right now are corn-derived ethanol and soybean-derived biodiesel, although many others are in development.
Currently, nearly all of the gasoline sold in the United States contains low levels of ethanol, which not only oxygenates the fuel and helps to reduce air pollution but also requires no special adaptation to the cars that receive it. In 2014, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that ethanol production is now among the highest levels recorded.
As a result of the ever-increasing need for a renewable, sustainable energy source that can be produced domestically and that has environmental benefits, government agencies on both the federal and state level are offering an array of incentives for American farmers who wish to grow crops for use as biofuel. Farmers are finding additional benefits to growing these crops as well, both in terms of profitability and business longevity.
For American farmers, the push for biofuel dovetails perfectly with the constant push for new ways to expand their business and their profitability. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States is operating under a trade deficit in crude oil, leading to continued and generous room for growth for farmers who wish to get involved in the biofuel industry. Corn and soybean crops are already used as food sources for both animals and people, and the byproducts of ethanol and biodiesel production, such as distillers grains (DDGS), can also be turned back into supplemental animal feed, which farmers can use to cut feed costs—with some of those savings passed on to the consumer as well.
In addition, farmers see other benefits by choosing to grow biofuel crops. Many of the plants being grown for ethanol and other biofuels take up less time and energy for growth and harvest than other crops; have been shown to reduce soil erosion and compaction; and need less tilling, which may help improve the condition of waterways as a result. Last year, Ethanol Producer Magazine found that those working in the ethanol industry are highly educated, well compensated, and happy in their chosen profession.
But biofuel doesn’t end with the commonly cited corn and soybean crops. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) notes that research is now being performed on fuels of varying types made from microscopic algae. Additional studies are looking at other sources of energy such as recycled cooking grease and animal fat. Scientists are also studying how best to produce ethanol and other biofuels to minimize the energy used to grow them and maximize the energy that is realized from them.
Over the next few years, people are even more likely to seek out alternative fuel sources for their cars. From fully electric cars to cars running on used cooking oil, the future of alternative fuels is bright. American farmers are a large part of this sector’s growth and can look forward to new discoveries that will ideally further increase both their profitability and their ability to contribute to better air quality and a decreased reliance on fossil fuels.
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