J500 Media and the Environment

Are Biofuels Bad? by matthewtb

“On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again,” sang Willie Nelson in one of his most iconic songs.

As Americans, automotive transportation is vital to our way of life. But our dependency on oil can produce detrimental consequences on the environment.

In September 2008 my brother Nik Bristow and Brian Pierce drove non-stop from Manhattan to Santa Monica, establishing the record for the first and fastest coast-to-coast run by a biodiesel-powered car. The cross-country drive took 38 hours and 37 minutes, fast enough for the duo to have placed fifth in the 1971 Cannonball Run. The record setting event was dubbed “Willie Run ‘08” in honor of the patron saint of biodiesel, Willie Nelson.


Willie Run '08

Willie Run '08


Are biofuels the way of the future?

Ethanol production has increased massively in the past decade, thanks to government subsidies. But the corn used to produce this fuel, in turn, has had a tremendous effect on global food prices.

Biodiesel, like ethanol, can be derived from food crops, it can also be made from used oils (like those found in a deep-fat-fryer at almost any restaurant.) Many restaurants are more than content on having their grease-traps cleaned out for free, but our nation’s automobiles obviously can’t run on grease alone.

The next generation of biofuels may come from algae. Large, green ponds are used to grow algae that can then be converted into fuel. Algae, which grow rapidly, are rich with natural oils and thrive on CO2. It can be housed adjacent to carbon dioxide emitting industrial sites, like coal-fired power plants and be used to minimize those sites’ carbon footprint.


The future of our energy consumption will rely primarily on renewable resources. It is our conversion over from fossil fuels that will be one the most daunting challenges we, as a planet, will have to face.

-Matt Bristow

Photo credit: willierun.com

Video credit: youtube.com


2 Comments so far
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While I agree that we most definitely need to find alternatives to petroleum-based gases, I also think we need to not rush headlong into biofuel options without also thinking of the costs. For example, cutting through great swaths of rainforest to plant crops for biofuel use negatively affects the global environment (see http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2009/03/why-biofuels-are-rainforests-worst-enemy for an article on this). While I don’t know that it’s a cure, I think we should bring other options (killed by the car industry, among other players) back to the table. When I lived in Boston, some of the outlying T stops, provided parking spaces where cars could be plugged in to recharge.

Comment by marybethw

Your link was very moving. Indonesian companies take away the tribal land, sometimes by seducing one villager with the promise of cash. Then basically sharecrop out the rest of the villagers with the production of palm oil, leaving them in debt and forest-less.
I have my hopes set on algae as a future carbon capturing tool and fuel alternative. Ethanol and other biofuels are just not beneficial enough, for the damage they cause.
… Thanks Mary Beth

Comment by matthewtb

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