With oil prices currently low do we still need to develop biofuels to replace oil?

Question a: With oil prices currently low do we still need to develop biofuels
to replace oil?

Biofuels refer to fuels generated from plants as well as crops. The most widely extracted and used biofuels are biodiesel and ethanol. These fuels are blended with gasoline and as such can be considered an appropriate alternative to fossil fuels (Gaffigan, 2015, p. 20). Given the dropping oil prices in the international market, it is important to consider whether biofuels can indeed provide an alternative or even replace fossils fuels in future. This question is particularly important considering that the overriding reason among many consumers for preferring biofuels over conventional fossil fuels is informed by the need to reduce costs associated with higher prices in regards to the latter (Clemente, 2015: Para 2).

From this perspective, it is appropriate to surmise that biofuels will not replace fossil fuels now and in future, as an alternative and cheaper source of energy. For the wider  part of 2015 and now 2016, the global price of crude oil have plummeted exponentially due to increased supply as a result of the discovery of oil in many parts of the world especially in Africa (Clemente, 2015: Para 6). The recent lifting of economic Sanctions means that one of the principle producers in the world will be able to supply its crude oil to the market which will further lead to a fall in prices.

Due to the low prices and availability of fossil fuels, people are increasingly using fossil fuels for monetary purposes. This then means that fossil fuels and oil in particular will continue being the most preferred source of energy due to its low prices compared to those incurred during the production of biofuels, which have remained higher even when global crude prices are extremely high (Clemente, 2015, Para: 2).  A critical consideration when developing alternatives to oil is the Energy return on Investment (EROI) or rather the amount of net energy gain contained in finished fuel products in relation to the energy consumed in producing the same (Gaffigan, 2015, p. 35). Currently, this consideration favours fossil fuels and therefore it is not necessary to develop them as replacement.

In addition, given the fact that the production of biofuels from crops has a direct effect on food supply and cost, and as such, development of biofuels is no longer needed considering the current low prices in regards to oil. Increased production of biofuels give the current oil prices is not an effective replacement as this means that crops that would have otherwise been used to the global population will be diverted to fuel generation.  This means that the 100 million people estimated by the World Bank as facing due the on-going food-shortage occasioned by changes in consumption patterns in the India and China, will continue facing severe starvation if the world continues to develop biofuels (Clemente, 2015, Para. 4).

Biofuels will thus not replace the oil as the primary source of energy in the world due to costs involved in generating the same as these fuels have lower energy densities compared to traditional oil and the increasing cost of biofuels (Gaffigan, 2015, p. 38). In deed as the price of oil plummets, that of biofuel will go up as the cost crop production goes up due to increased global demand for food. The solution is to develop alternative energy sources that are both sustainable and efficient in terms of energy generation and cost.

Question 2: Ethical And Societal Concerns With Regards To 1st And
2nd Generation Biofuels?

First and second generation biofuels are hold significant potential in terms of global warming and therefore climate change mitigation due to their low or zero emission levels as opposed to oil (Ziegler, 2013, Para. 3).  The emergence of biofuels as an alternative to oil was largely driven by environmentalists who hailed the energy source as a sustainable approach to producing liquid fuels.  However, this promise has faded away as there a number of ethical and societal concerns that limits the use of biofuels as replacement for fossil fuels and especially oil going forward.

Numerous scholars of the issue argue that that 1st and 2nd generation biofuels portend monumental ethical as well societal concerns as their production competes directly with food production in the world. This in turn affects food security as demonstrated by the augmented prices of various food commodities coupled with the continued production of these fuels from food crops (Ziegler, 2013, Par: 5). This therefore begs the question whether these fuels at the requisite replacement for oil considering that more than 100 million individuals in the world are at risk of facing severe food shortages and therefore starvation largely driven by biofuels production.

Secondly, ethical as well as societal concerns have been raised regarding the increased demand for new land to increase biofuels production given that this rising demand will eventually lead further deforestation thereby aggravating current environmental problems particularly in regards to desertification and increased Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere. Deforestation for biofuel purposes means that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase meaning that more heat energy will be retained in addition to increasing soil erosion. This will in turn result in increased temperatures will ultimately lead to food shortages as the rate of desertification will increase exponentially due to increased erosion (Gomiero, Paoletti, & Pimentel, 2010p, 404).

Further, increased temperature means that diseases and disease-causing pathogens will increase as warmer temperature encourage bleeding of the same (Gomiero, Paoletti, & Pimentel, 2010, 406: Para: 2). It therefore does not make sense to increase biofuels production by clearing more land to pave way for required crops with the view to mitigating climate change on the one hand while on the other hand reducing the ability of the earth and its population to fend for itself in a sustainable manner and realize better societal outcomes in terms of food security and better health argue Gomiero, Paoletti, ad Pimentel (2010, p. 403:Para 2).

Finally, another ethical and societal concern associated with the production and usage of first as well as second generation biofuels relates to its efficiency. Studies in this regard have demonstrated that these fuels indeed result in unconstructive energy returns coupled with an increase in emission of greenhouse gases (Gomiero, Paoletti, & Pimentel, 2010, p. 404: Para: 3). This effectively defeats the logic as well as definitive goal of using biofuels as an alternative or replacement for oil in terms of mitigating climate change and associated ramifications.  Nonetheless, it is crucial that the world focuses on developing a viable alternative to fossil fuels other than biofuels given these fundamental ethical as well as societal concerns regarding first and second generation biofuels.


Clemente, J. (2015, June 17th). Why Biofuels Can’t Replace Oil. Retrieved March 22nd, 2016, from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/judeclemente/2015/06/17/why-biofuels-cant-replace-oil/#66fa8945362b

Gaffigan, M. E. (2015). Biofuels: Potential Effects and Challenges of Required Increases in Production and Use. New York, NY: Diane Publishing.

Gomiero, T., Paoletti, M., & Pimentel, D. (2010). Biofuels: Efficiency, Ethics, and Limits to Human Appropriation of Ecosystem Services. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, 23(5), 403-34.

Ziegler, J. (2013). Burning food crops to produce biofuels is a crime against humanity. Retrieved March 22nd, 2016, from The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty

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