Biofuels, the Larger Context

  • Patrick C. HallenbeckEmail author


Few would argue with the need to replace the fossil fuels that are currently the driving force of the world’s economy with renewable fuels that are produced in a sustainable manner and that minimally increase greenhouse gas emissions. While the focus of this book is on some of the science behind advanced biofuels production using microbes, enormous changes are required for the world to quit its addiction to fossil fuels. Thus, it is worthwhile to raise and consider some of the larger issues around future biofuels production. These certainly call for a large public debate, and careful consideration by policy makers. In addition to the social issues, biofuels production raises a number of ethical questions and it can even be argued that there is an ethical imperative to produce biofuels (Buxy and Tait 2011). First, I lay out the case, perhaps already well-made elsewhere, for the need to develop new energy sources and then discuss some of the larger issues surrounding new energy development.


Peak oil Climate change Food versus fuel Energy security Energy conservation Carter doctrine 


  1. Buxy A, Tait J (2011) Ethical framework for biofuels. Science 332:540–541PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Caldeira K, Davis SJ (2011) Accounting for carbon dioxide emissions: a matter of time. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:8533–8534PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Editorial (2007) Kill king corn. Nature 449:637Google Scholar
  4. Fargione J, Hill J, Tilman D, Polasky S, Hawthorne P (2008) Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science 319(5867):1235–1238PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Field CB, Campbell JE, Lobell DB (2007) Biomass energy: the scale of the potential resource. Trends Ecol Evol 23:65–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Gancia G, Zilibotti F (2009) Technological change and the wealth of nations. Annu Rev of Econ 1:93–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. International Energy Agency (2010) Energy technology perspectives. International Energy Agency, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  8. Karp A, Richter GM (2011) Meeting the challenge of food and energy security. J Exp Bot. doi: 10.1093/jxb/err099
  9. Kendall A, Chang B (2009) Estimating life cycle greenhouse gas emissions from corn-ethanol: a critical review of current U.S. practices. J Clean Prod 17(13):1175–1182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Kerr RA (2008) World oil crunch looming? Science 322:1178–1179PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kerr RA (2011) Peak oil production may already be here. Science 331:1510–1511PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Klare MT (2004) Blood and oil: The dangers and consequences of America’s growing dependency on imported petroleum. Metropolitan Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Koh LP, Miettinen J, Liew SC, Ghazoul J (2011) Remotely sensed evidence of tropical peatland conversion to oil palm. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:5127–5132PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Le Billon P, Cervantes A (2009) Oil prices, scarcity, and geographies of war. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 99(5):836–844CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Markandya A, Wilkinson P (2007) Energy and health. 2. Electricity generation and health. Lancet 370:979–990PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ontario Ministry of Energy (2005) Cost benefit analysis: replacing Ontario’s coal-fired electricity generation. Accessed June 22, 2011
  17. Patz JA, Gibbs HK, Foley JA, Rogers JV, Smith KR (2007) Climate change and global health: quantifying a growing ethical crisis. Ecohealth 4:397–405CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Pearce F (2002) Big city killer: if cigarettes don’t get you the traffic pollution will. New Sci 9:8Google Scholar
  19. Peters GP, Minx JC, Weber CL, Edenhofer O (2011) Growth in emission transfers via international trade from 1990 to 2008. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 108:8903–8908PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Ross ML (2008) Blood barrels – why oil wealth fuels conflict. Foreign Aff 87(3):2–8Google Scholar
  21. Sagar AD, Kartha S (2007) Bioenergy and sustainable development? Annu Rev Environ Resour 32:131–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Searchinger TD, Ralph Heimlich R, Houghton RA, Dong F, Elobeid A, Fabiosa J, Tokgoz S, Hayes D, Yu T-H (2007) Use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change. Science 319(5867):1238–1240PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tilman D, Socolow R, Foley JA, Hill J, Larson E, Lynd L et al (2009) Beneficial biofuels – the food, energy, and environment trilemma. Science 325:270–271PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tsui KK (2011) More oil, less democracy: evidence from worldwide crude oil discoveries. Econ J 121(551):89–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wilkinson P, Smith KR, Joffe M, Haines A (2007) A global perspective on energy: health effects and injustices. Lancet 370(9591):965–978PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Yergin D (1992) The prize: the epic quest for oil, money and power. Free Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département de microbiologie et immunologieUniversité de MontréalMontréalCanada

Personalised recommendations