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What Are Biofuels?
Biofuels are plant based fuels that are renewable and cleaner burning than traditional petroleum based fuels. The most common types of biofuels are ethanol (made from corn) and biodiesel (mix of alcohol and vegetable or cooking oil or animal fats or soybeans). Some biofuels are mixed with petroleum fuel to be used in automobiles, trucks, busses, and farm-equipment. Second generation biofuels are in the works, made from biomass or plant or animal materials. These second generation biofuels that are being worked often come from non-food, or “waste” sources such as corn stover, algae, solid waste, or park or garden clippings.
Pros of Biofuels
  • Greenhouse gas production is reduced. Burning biofuels only releases the CO2 that the plants take up when they are growing.
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Biofuels and Wetlands
Biofuels have a large impact on wetlands as they are often drained to make space to grow the crops needed to produce biofuels. This has serious consequences for the environment and the species that depend on these areas for their survival. Part of the debate over whether biofuels are a good idea stems from this problem of can we grow them without destroying the rest of these environments.
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  • Biofuels are renewable.
  • There are positive economic impacts from the production of biofuels such as jobs in producing it, money paid to growers, and increased fuel-efficiency of automobiles.
  • Reduced dependence on foreign oil imports.
  • Biofuel production plants are generally cleaner and less polluting than gasoline-producing plants.
  • Using cleaner, greener fuels can have huge health benefits by reducing air pollution.
  • Research and future work could make biofuels far more energy efficient than petroleum fuel products.
  • If the biofuel is made from recycled cooking oil, these sources can be cheap or even free because there isn’t another use for them.
  • It’s biodegradable so spills or leaks wouldn’t be quite as persistent in the environment.

Cons of Biofuels
  • The types of plants needed to produce biofuels cannot be grown in every region, meaning there is still a cost (both economically and environmentally) to getting the produced biofuel to consumers.
  • Huge water consumption to grow biofuels will strain water resources in certain areas.
  • Certain biofuel plants (such as corn or soybeans) that could be used for food can drive up the prices when they are used for biofuels.
  • To make room for growing the crops for biofuels, many habitats are destroyed
  • High fertilizer use to grow the plants can lead to water contamination and other environmental problems in the surrounding area.
  • The amount of energy used to turn biomass turned into an energy source may be more than the amount of energy the biomass creates, leaving a net loss of energy and no benefit to it.
  • Not all biomass makes the same quality biofuel and this can lead to other problems.
  • Biofuels increase the pressure to use monoculture cropping (a single genetic variety of plant, all exactly the same, planted in huge fields year after year) which may work economically for a while but have huge environmental costs.
  • There are quite a few technical difficulties in converting things like cars to running on biofuels because of the different properties of biofuel compared to petroleum based fuels.
  • Many forms of biofuels are unsuitable for colder climates do to gelling, a process where the fuel solidifies.
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Future Use of Wetlands for Biofuels
A lot of research is currently being done on using some of the plants found in wetlands to create biofuels. One line of research is looking at using the invasive species that are cleared out of wetlands to make room for native species to be processed into biofuels. This helps native plants reestablish themselves by clearing out the invasive species and providing a revenue stream to fund the restoration of the wetlands.
Another line of research is looking at using harvested cattails (which are an annual plant, meaning they grow and die every year, re-seeding themselves) to be processed into biofuels. This method has the benefit of re-growing itself year after year and removing chemicals from the soil since cattails are known for their uptake of chemicals from the soil in the area (one of the reasons wetlands are good purifying systems).