Making the case for biofuels during hard times


Anyone who has glanced at a newspaper headline or listened to the news in recent months understands just how bad the recession has become. In spite of a sputtering economy, the fundamental advantages that biofuels have over traditional petroleum fuels haven’t changed. They are still largely renewable, locally-produced fuels that reduce Minnesota’s dependence on oil from other parts of the world. Using biofuels can significantly reduce ozone and particulate air pollution, as well as provide sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

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Unlike many other green energy options– electric vehicles, solar, nuclear, cellulosic biofuels—E85 and biodiesel are fuels that are being used by thousands of vehicles right now, making an impact today.

Using these cleaner-burning fuels today does not preclude the development of other fuels or technologies. On the contrary—“first-generation” biofuels can help build an infrastructure of retail stations and vehicles that serve as the foundation for other “second-generation” fuels, such as cellulosic ethanol or biodiesel made from algae.

The American Lung Association of Minnesota has supported the use of E85 and biodiesel because of its proven ability to reduce harmful emissions.
Every day, we all need clean, safe air to breathe. Exhaust from motor vehicles is a major source of air pollution in this region, and we continue in our mission for clean air.

Even when gasoline prices go down, many Minnesotans continue to opt for clean-air solutions, organizations such as the Automotive Association of America say that we continue to drive less than we did in the past. According to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, gasoline sales declined by three percent in 2008 compared with 2007. In the Twin Cities, Metro Transit bus ridership was up six percent. Statewide, E85 sales increased by nearly five percent, and prevented an estimated 89,548 tons of lifecycle carbon dioxide emissions and other harmful pollutants from entering our air.

In May, the state’s biodiesel requirement increases from a two-percent blend to a five-percent blend of biodiesel at virtually all diesel outlets. That’s an important step, as a majority of our food, raw materials and manufactured products move on diesel fuel. Moving away from oil – a commodity not found in Minnesota – to biodiesel, a renewable, cleaner-burning fuel we can easily produce from a wide variety of sources, is good news for Minnesota’s economy and environment.

As budgets get tight, and many look for programs and initiatives to trim, some will no doubt target biofuels, saying that “we just can’t afford them” right now. On the contrary, I argue that once having taken our first small steps away from near total dependence on petroleum fuels for transportation, we can’t afford to go backwards now.