Bio Fuels Take Off ... But to Where?

Bio Fuels Take Off ... But to Where?

by Buck Lindsay (submitted by Jennifer Hendrickson, Executive Director, RFPD & Editor of Fragile Earth)

In the last five years, the production and use of biofuels has taken off like a rocket, with global consumption of ethonol and biodiesel growing from five billion gallons to 12 billion today. Although biofuels are now only two percent of the world gasoline used, they are certain to increase even more rapidly, as fossil fuels continue to grow in cost relative to the crops from which biofuels are made.

Compared to 1950, the cost of a barrel of oil today has increased at a ratio of 13 times the cost of a bushel of wheat. This is why, in the last fifty years, farmers require subsidies to continue their work, while OPEC countries are awash with money. Oil producing countries are now controlling the global oil market, and dictating the price of gasoline to the rest of the world. With biofuels now on the scene to stay, there is no doubt that farmers will begin shifting their products from the food supply chain to the energy supply chain.

From the consumer's point-of-view, the gas stations will be competing for the same agricultural products as the grocery store. And with the major oil reserves of the world diminishing, and coming from mostly the more volatile parts of the world, we have to focus toward all other available energy resources. These other sources include wind, solar energy, hydropower, and now biofuels.

Biofuels are made from staple agricultural crops. Ethanol comes from sugar beet, sugarcane and corn, while biodiesel comes from palm oil, coconut oil and oilseed. The ethanol that Brasil now produces from sugarcane supplies 40% of its automotive fuel needs. Some crops convert to biofuel more efficiently than others, with sugar beet and sugarcane being the highest and corn, wheat, peanut and soybean the lowest. Some require more energy than others to process, and some yield usable bi-products. In the end, it is the net energy that determines the value of the biofuel - that is: energy produced, less energy consumed to make it.

There are ecological pluses and negatives to this new fuel science. Many governments like biofuels, because they produce no carbon emissions, and help those governments meet their carbon emission reduction goals. An obvious negative is that economic pressures will drive industry to clear more land for fuel crop production, upsetting an already fragile biodiversity in many areas.

Without question, the group that will be most effected by the growth in biofuels is the hungry. Since farmers now have two users competing for their crops, there will be less food available at the marketplace, and everyone will eat further down the food chain.

If India is to make progress and pull herself out of this vicious cycle of illiteracy, poverty and population explosion, she has to undertake the difficult task of empowering women. The task will be more challenging, since the same solution will not work for different parts of the country. Culture, landscape, varying support from men and economic opportunities differ widely in different part of the country.

While traveling through India, it was heart-warming to see the work being done by various NGO's and Rotarians for the empowerment of women. One of these dedicated persons is Mr. Virendra Singh.

After spending several decades in USA and working for corporations like Dupont, Mr. Singh decided to do something to help the girls in his native village, Anupshahr, in Uttar Pradesh. He started a school for 500 tribal girls from families where monthly income was Rs. 600 ($15) or less per month. In this school, the girls enter 3rd grade and graduate in 10th grade. Uniforms, lunch, books and fees are all free. Older girls are provided free bicycles to come to the school.

Morning classes include Math, Science, Reproductive Education, English and Computer Science. In the afternoon they learn the vocation of creating home furnishings. These products are sold in the competitive market, thus making the school self-sustaining. This is the second school of this kind in India and it is making a tremendous difference.

The first one is in Dharamshala, started by His Eminence Dalai Lama. Rotarians in Jharkhand were kind enough to show me the Rotary Saheli Centers, for which support has been promoted by RFPD. The Saheli Centers are providing Women's Empowerment. The final outcome, however, will be measured only when the Centers become self-sustaining and are working without continued outside help.

Timken company from Canton, Ohio, has not only put an industrial plant in Jharkhand, but Timken Foundation is supporting Family Planning initiative in the Centers. Their local partner, Tata Girls learning embroidary Steels, is financing Water Projects, teaching the tribal people to grow three crops instead of one meager crop a year, and discouraging men from leaving the State in significant numbers, thereby keeping the family strncture intact.

Since Rotarians are now joining hands with the Timken Foundation, the Tata Foundation and RFPD, the outcome will be more successful.
Saheli Center in Jharkhand - What we consistently observed on this trip was that women had the intense desire and hope for the opportunity and tools, not only to educate and support themselves, but to educate their sons and daughters, so that they also can climb the economic ladder. It is the universal dream of every parent.

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(RFPD - Rotarian Action Group for Population & Development - operates in accordance with Rotary International policy but is not an agency of, or controlled by Rotary International.)

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