Energy independence represents an increasingly important public policy issue worldwide as citizens and governments are preoccupied about price fluctuations and global crises that could jeopardize their economic performance. This is why President Trump has highlighted the importance of energy independence for the United States. Similarly, for China, the Strait of Malacca trade route represents 80% of its total energy imports given that said resources come from the Indian Ocean region. In 2003, President Hu Jintao referred to this extreme energy dependency as the Malacca Dilemma and called for a resources diversification. Likewise, nations all over the world are seeking new and innovative ways through which they can diversify their energy resource pool and not rely solely on one source. For instance, the wealthy countries of the Middle East and northern Europe are investing heavily in renewable or green energy sources as a long-term alternative to finite fossil fuels. However, photovoltaic or solar as well as wind produced energy is not the only alternative to petroleum and natural gas. Countries like Brazil and the United States have developed large ethanol refining complexes using agricultural inputs, such as sugar cane and corn.
Agriculture, Biofuels & Energy Independence
A basic and rudimentary type of biofuel generation is called Biochar, which refers to the process of charcoal and fertilizer creation through the burning of organic waste in an oxygen vacuum. Said chemical process involves thermal decomposition and the trapping of the released carbon molecules. One of the benefits of Biochar is that it can be done with the waste material from farm operations, making it relatively inexpensive. However, this is not the case with all biofuels as many of them are still not cost-efficient enough to compete with fossil fuels.
The ongoing and future employment of food and agriculture inputs into the energy industry represents an added stress for food markets, as there will be increased demand for agribusiness commodities. Currently, some of the main agricultural inputs used by the energy industry are sugar cane, corn, palm, jatropha, soy, safflower, mustard, canola, and algae. The benefit of some of these biofuels is that, once transformed, several of them are fungible, which means that they are compatible to be transported and burned within the existing energy infrastructure of developed nations. The continued development and employment of these energy sources will also increase farmland values in productive regions utilized for their cultivation. However, some important metrics need to be taken into consideration when working with biofuels, such as the crop’s oil content and oil yield.
According to research done by the University of California, safflower has about 45% oil content whereas palm has 50%, and algae can contain up to 60% oil. As to yield per acre, canola produces about 133 oil gallons per acre and palm up to 635 gallons per acre. However, the largest oil-yielding crop is algae with an average 5,000 oil gallons per acre. It is important to note, however, that some of these crops can be either labor or water intensive. Nevertheless, these biofuels have enormous potential when it comes to advances through technological development.