Biofuel crops ready for harvest

Ethical aspects of fat: what if we used more biofuels?

Should we be relying more on biofuels?

Currently, only about 4 per cent of fuel used in road vehicles and mobile machines in the UK is renewable. Most renewable fuel is biodiesel or bioethanol, with 26 million litres of biodiesel (10 per cent of all biofuels) coming from recycled cooking oils produced in the UK and 34 million litres of bioethanol (13 per cent of all biofuels) coming from corn produced in Ukraine.

Proponents of biofuels say that they reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. However, is growing bioenergy crops really an efficient use of land? For bioenergy to meet even 20 per cent of the world’s total energy needs in 2050, yearly harvests of all plant materials would have to double. It’s hard to imagine where all that extra space would come from and what impact it would have on the food supply.

Biofuels and biogas can also be produced from waste biomass from forestry and other industries. However, it’s thought that the energy these wastes could yield is limited. 


Pros Cons
Reductions in the amount of energy produced from fossil fuels. Biofuel crops compete for space with food crops.
Bioenergy crops can be grown on poorer-quality land than food crops. When burnt, biofuels still produce greenhouse gases.


Lead image:

Joel Dinda/Flickr CC BY NC


Questions for discussion

  • Can you think of other pros and cons?
  • Should we be investing in bioenergy, or in other ways of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, such as solar energy and electric cars?

Downloadable resources

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Fat’ in December 2015.

Statistics and maths, Ecology and environment, Biotechnology and engineering
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development