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Growing plants for fuels: Are bio fuels sustainable?


Modern societies and industrial sectors utilise large quantities of energy, which is mainly derived from fossil fuels. Among these, the transport sector demands approximately 84 million barrels a day, which has been projected to increase up to 116 million barrels a day by 2030 (Anon, 2007). Since the transport sector uses fossil fuels as their main source, there is a necessity and proper action plan to implement sustainable energy sources to replace the fossil fuels at least to some extent. The bio fuels from the plant origin seems to be an promising source of sustainable fuel with the capability of substituting the fossil fuels alone or in combination with other source in a hybrid system. Therefore, this issue need to be addressed in concise manner to be adopted more and more people.


The scientists demonstrate that the emission of green house gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide arise from fossil fuel combustion and changes in land use pattern due to human activities are main source for the climate change (Anon, 2007a). According to Houghton et al. (1990) carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels is the most prominent component in green house gas emission. In general, the transport sector alone contributes to about 20% of carbon emission; however it goes up to 25% in United Kingdom. The increasing trend in these figures, let policy makers to think seriously to find a sustainable alternative to meet this challenge that was set to reduce the carbon emission by 60% by 2050 (Anon, 2007). It is obvious that transport has become the main driver for increasing global primary oil demand. Simply cutting down the transport won't be the solution for this problem as mobility become as the essential part in our modern life style, however proper management and possibility for the alternative fuel usage can help to attain the target.

Therefore studies need to be undertaken to address the issue in relation t its sustainability. Especially bio fuel feed stock and conversion technology development must occur with the end use needs in mind that is engine usage efficiency and vice versa. To achieve this, research and development must be integrated across supply chain. The feed stock need to be from variety of sources such as annual food crops, perennial energy crops and forestry, agricultural co-products such as straw marine organism and micro organism. These sources should increase the yield per hectare, while reducing the negative environmental impacts. Application of genetic modification technology will ease the issue in relation to lignocelluloses feed stock problem. Emphasis needs to be given to the synthetic biology, increase techniques in machineries and process in bio-refineries.


It can be concluded that the increasing trend of fossil fuel usage in demand of the busy life style as a main source of fuel for the transport pollute the environment in several ways. Therefore, there is a necessity and urgent action to replace the fossil fuel by a sustainable alternative. Several sustainable alternative energy sources have been extensively studied and in practice to some extend in some part of the world. However, using the bio fuels from the plant origins, especially from the purposely grown plants, is considered as an effective alternative fuel for the sustainable future.

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