Bio-fuels: everything comes with a cost

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image from Wikimedia Commons

The New York Times has recently reported that the increase in production of bio-fuels is altering the price of food despite efforts to avoid it and has also raised other concerns such as hunger issues as well as the potential for political instability.   

Demand for plant based fuel sources can be found in industrially developing areas such as China as well as established countries in Europe and here in the United States.  In fact here at home Congress has committed us to using 36 billion gallons of bio-fuels annually by 2022.

As one could imagine prices are affected by many things including the success of the growing season.  Ironically high oil prices and transportation costs also affect the cost of bio-fuel production.  We too easily forget the interwoven nature of so many aspects of our lives.   

Bio-fuels such as bio-diesel and ethanol can be used to suppliment or replace gasoline and diesel for cars and trucks. Bio-Bio-fuels can also fill in as well as heating oil is in our homes.  They can reduce our dependency on foreign oil when, but not without a cost.  In the U.S. there has been an increase in the use of corn for fuel production and an associated cost increase. 

When the cost of oil goes above $100 a barrel—and we closed above $109 yesterday—bio-fuels start to look more enticing.  We saw a surge in interest in bio-fuels back in 2008 when oil prices skyrocketed.  I suspect it may happen again.

Switching the type of fuel we burn is not really the answer.  For sure there are benefits to bio-fuels, and I won’t discourage the use of them.  There are jobs created, localized production and independence from foreign sources for sure.  In the Home Performance work we recognize how important it is to look at houses as a system.  Like our homes, there is a great deal of interaction that takes place in producing bio-fuels.  What is the impact of switching fuels? 

Home performance retrofit improvements reduce usage in a home.  The best part of a home performance retrofit is that not only do we create a more efficient home, but we create a safer and more comfortable one.  It’s a win-win situation.

So before we start driving the price of crops up by buying all the cassava root we can find as China is doing and raising the price we pay for groceries , consider the less exotic option of fixing things right at home creating the increased efficiency and comfort we need right under our roofs.  Once you’ve taken care of the easy things then consider running your car on beans or root vegetables.

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