Are Bioproducts Creating Competition For Food Crops?

April 4, 2018

A recent survey found that 44% of the respondents identify themselves as environmentally concerned shoppers (frequently or always buy environmentally friendly products). Even if environmental concerns don’t influence your purchasing decisions, we can probably all agree that there is value in working towards a sustainable world.

The world is in desperate need of a renewable fuel source. Although biofuels account for around 3% of the world’s fuel’s for road transport, fossil fuels still dominate the market. The number of vehicles manufactured to run on biofuels or a biofuel mix is increasing every year, along with our consumption of biofuels.

As the human population continues to increase, we must produce more food. With nearly 40% of the world’s land already dedicated to agriculture, some worry that we may be causing competition for land between biofuels and food crops. It’s true that much of the corn grown in the United States will become ethanol, but biofuels can be produced from a large variety of feedstocks. As we start to dedicate more acreage to food crops, we will start to see biofuels being produced from a range of non-corn feedstocks like algae, crop residue, municipal solid waste, and wood pulp. Although there are issues associated with using certain feedstocks, the future success of biofuel production will require the diversified use of a range of feedstocks.

12.9% of the world’s population suffers from food insecurity. Converting all of our fuel crops into food crops still won’t solve the logistical issues associated with feeding the world. If we remember that a third of the food produced in the world is wasted, it doesn’t seem sustainable to grow more perishable crops before we can figure out a way to effectively distribute calories where they are needed.

As biotechnology becomes more advanced, alternative feedstocks will quench our thirst for biofuel. Rather than producing more food, we should focus on sustainable food production and distribution. Although there are a limited number of usable acres on Earth, there are countless ways to use them. As long as fair industry regulation remains, biofuel crops and food crops are not so much competing, as they are, both developing separately.

Bioeconomy Basics is a series centered around providing education about the emerging bioeconomy. This article was written by Bradley Collins, OBIC Student Assistant and Senior at The Ohio State University.