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Nation-building through Biofuel June 7, 2007

Posted by Janjan in All, Legally Opinionated and Jurisprudent.

The world is beginning to acknowledge today that we should rely less and less on fossil fuels as a source of power to drive human industry and activity.

These are for a myriad of reasons, including environmental (the release of greenhouse gases), economic (the dwindling supply of fossil fuel, which is a non-renewable resource), and political (no country wants to be reliant on oil-producing nations for its energy needs.)

Although there are likewise myriad alternative energy sources, such as solar energy, nuclear energy, wind power, and the like, of particular interest for its power yield and low-technology requirements is the oft-acclaimed biofuel. 

Simply explained, biofuel is a kind of fuel derived from organic sources such as plants, animal manure and animal carcasses, as opposed to fossil fuel which is derived from mineral resources, i.e., the unprocessed oil lodged deep within the earth resulting from the naturally processed decay of dinosaur fossils (hence the term “fossil fuel”).

In the Philippines, which is a country that does not produce its own oil (not yet anyway), we have taken steps to ensure that the country relies less and less on fossil fuel imported from abroad and instead, have looked inward to its rich natural resources in the form of biofuel.  This move is formalized by the passage of Republic Act No. 9367, or the law more commonly known as “Biofuels Act of 2006.”  The salient feature of this law provides that by the year 2008, at least 5% of bioethanol fuel must be included in the mix of all gasoline fuel actually sold and distributed within the country.  By the year 2010, this mix must have increased to 10%.

To date, the law has already taken effect, mandatorily requiring a mix of 1% bioethanol in all diesel fuel actually sold and distributed within the country, increasing to at least 2% by the year 2009.

Furthermore, the law stresses that this bioethanol must derived from sources found within the Philippines, and it is only when there is a shortage of local sources, can the local oil companies import bioethanol from foreign countries, but only to the extent of the local shortage.

Personally, I am quite enthusiastic with this development, not only for ecological reasons, but more particularly for economic ones.  Take note, biofuel comes from organic sources, meaning things which have to be grown and farmed, such as animals and plants.  Stated otherwise, this will have a huge domestic spill-over effect on our agricultural industry, providing jobs and much needed profit to our poor farmers.  It will bring development to our much-neglected rural provinces that have no infrastructure to speak of to spur them to economic gain.

On other matters, it will also spur our country’s investment in science and research-related industries, as we will need to come up with the technology to properly harness efficiently the energy yield of these organic crops.  It is no secret that our Filipino scientists have great potential as one of the world’s best and most creative researchers.  It’s just that we need a core activity to spur investment into our scientific and technological talent and encourage them to come out with breakthroughs.

However, it would be simplistic to say that since it is environmentally sound, biofuel comes fool-proof.  In the first-place, biofuel energy yield is not as potent as that for fossilized fuels.  Its one advantage over it, however, is that while fossil fuels are non-renewable, biofuel derivants can be grown from one’s own backyard.

To understand this contention, we need to look at the sources of biofuel.  Animals and livestock are one of those sources, in the form of animal manure.  In one National Geographic show I witnessed, a certain European country even went so far as to use the parts of a cow which are not used for human consumption, hence instead of throwing away the parts that they are not going to eat, the Europeans instead melted these down into biofuel and used it to power the local  train.  One nasty side-effect of animal-based biofuel however is its smell.  Literally, this fuel stinks, causing smelly exhaust fumes to fumigate all over the city.  But for the sake of the environment, this particular European town sucked it up and bore the stench.

Another source of biofuel are plants.  Essentially, anything that has sugar or sugar-variants can be used as a base for the creation of ethanol, which is a prime ingredient for mixing into gasoline and diesel.  Past studies have shown plants like rice, sugar cane, palm fruits, soybeans, coconut copra, corn oil, and the like, have potential for use as biofuel.

Take note however that these same plants are also used for human consumption, thus, a question will arise as to how much of the Philippines’ crops will be used as food and how much will be used as biofuel.  If we also follow the rules of supply and demand, this increased demand for our country’s crops will cause the insane rise of food prices, unless however, we can grow a concommitant increase of crop supplies to meet this demand.

Another consideration to take note of is the share of the technological know-how for the creation of biofuel.  This information is already available in our country’s top scientific institutions, such as those found in UP Los Banos, VISCA, and our very own University of San Carlos.  However, these institutions are very tight-lipped about their know-how and are refusing to share the information for public consumption, the reason being that from a research standpoint, biofuel is so easy to manufacture that an ordinary citizen using amateur-constructed implements can create his own biofuel from his own crops.

In fact, it is technically feasible to grow these very same biofuel plants within the city itself.  Some of the prime sources for biofuels are nothing more than weeds that you can easily grow from the comfort of your own backyard.

I believe the nation should be more aware of the potentials and drawbacks of Biofuel because the right management of this resource can cause a major improvement in our quality of life, causing us to be less reliant on other countries for fuel and spurring the development of both the agricultural and scientific communities in the nation.

At the same time, the mismanagement of this resource can cause the sharp increase of our foods’ prices, not to mention cause stinky fumes to cover our whole city.

More research should be made, and each Filipino should encourage this crop’s potential.


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