Biotechnology and Biofuels: Providing Renewable Energy while Reducing Carbon Emissions
In 2009, the combined savings of carbon emissions from biotech crops was equivalent to removing almost eight million cars from the road. This savings is due to better containment of carbon in the soil (sequestration) because of low or no-till practices, and from a reduction of fossil fuels as a result of fewer tractor passes over the land (James, 2010).
The cumulative reduction of pesticide applications due to biotech crops from 1996-2009 is estimated to be 393 million kilograms of active ingredient (James, 2010). Reduced pesticide applications also mean farmers use less fuel.
Helping Meet our Current and Future Energy Needs
Our energy needs are growing. Agricultural biotechnology is playing a role to meet this growing demand today and is poised to do so tomorrow. Here are the two main types of biofuels currently produced:
- Ethanol is derived from corn, sugarcane and other crops. Using ethanol in place of gasoline helps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 29 percent given today's technology (Renewable Fuels Association).
- Biodiesel is made from soybeans and other oilseed crops and is having an increased impact today through its use in power farm equipment, trucks and buses. It is estimated that in 2008 approximately 8.5 million acres of biotech soybeans produced approximately 500 million gallons of biodiesel (James, 2008).
Biotechnology and Biofuels: What's in Store for the Future?
Scientists are working in a number of areas to extend the benefits of biotechnology to new generations of biofuels:
- Researchers are developing new, improved biofuels – Biotechnology is being used to produce new, improved biofuels that perform more like gasoline than ethanol and provide better fuel economy.
- Crops designed specifically for biofuels applications – In 2011, alpha-amylase corn was deregulated, allowing the crop to be moved and planted without USDA oversight. The alpha-amylase enzyme produced by the corn helps make starch conversion more efficient –requiring less energy and making ethanol production cheaper and more environmentally friendly (USDA APHIS, 2011).
Brookes, G. & Barfoot, P. GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996-2007, PG Economics Ltd, Dorchester, UK, 2009. http://www.pgeconomics.co.uk/index.htm
James, Clive. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). Global Status of Commercialized Biotech /GM Crops, 2008.
James, Clive. International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA). Global Status of Commercialized Biotech /GM Crops, 2010. http://www.isaaa.org/resources/publications/briefs/42/executivesummary/default.asp
Renewable Fuels Association, http://www.ethanolrfa.org/resource/facts/environment/
USDA Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), 2011. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2011/02/pdf/faq_amylase_corn_deregulation.pdf