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Do biofuels compete with food?

        Auto | Biofuels

Increasing Supply to Meet Demand
Palm seed oil is a great candidate for large-scale biofuel producers, because it creates such energy-dense biofuel.
Palm seed oil is a great candidate for large-scale biofuel producers, because it creates such energy-dense biofuel.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

About 13 percent of the Earth's surface is used for food production [source: Businessweek]. Biofuel proponents argue that as plant-based fuels gain popularity, farmers will meet the booming demand by planting more acreage, thus increasing total supply and meeting both food and fuel needs. U.S. farmers responded to the 2006 demand by planting roughly 10 million additional acres of corn the following season, after all [source: Businessweek]. But not every producer has responded to biofuel demand in the same way. Some, in fact, have gone about increasing resource production in ways that could outweigh the benefits of plant-based fuels altogether.

Palm oil can produce one of the most energy-dense biofuels, thus making it a prime candidate for large-scale biofuel producers. But demand for palm oil-based biofuel in Europe in the mid 2000s spurred the growth of huge palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia. Rainforests were leveled to make room for the farms: By some estimates, more than 80 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia in the 15 years before 2000 was due to palm oil plantation expansion [source: Rosenthal].

In the U.S., corn producers can place a major load on water infrastructure as they scale up to meet biofuel demands. Ethanol produced from corn grown in the Great Plains and Western states demands much more irrigation than the equivalent amount of ethanol produced in wetter states. A biofuel that is environmentally sound in one part of the world may be a disaster in another region [source: McKenna].


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