Biofuels and energy self-sufficiency : Colombian experience
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SummaryThe non-renewable nature of fossil fuels combined with the high level of participation within transportation sector in the total consumption of primary energy and atmospheric pollution, have become the primary forces propelling research of alternative sources for vehicles, mainly those sources derived from biomass. This has resulted in an increased environmental consciousness that seeks to replace fossil fuels or to provide blends that reduce their overall consumption. Mainly searching for these sources in agribusiness, and taking into account that tropical countries play lead roles here in Colombia is where the greatest variety of plant species can be found and where the environmental conditions make production of these more advantageous. The global energy problem leads to express the scope, opportunities and threats that the use and partial replacement of conventional fossil fuels by biofuels or agrofuels represent for the development of a country, focusing in Colombia as a case study. The growing importance of new energy sources, (which can be derived from a variety of crops) and raw materials, which demands high biomass amounts, must generate some level of concern about the possible harmful effects of deforestation, jungle loss and replacement of crop fields essential for human diet (food safety). Not to mention the challenges in the climatic, geographical and physical fields, i.e. on whole nations’ economies (Cortés et al., 2009) . Today, these new energy sources are the new financial, political and even environmental strategies. Their importance is such that currently there are more than 30 raw materials being tested worldwide. Despite this big boost they still do not provide a solution to the global energy crisis (Cortés and Álvarez, 1998). The possibility of using biofuels in the development of cars and engines, has been considered from the very beginning, but only as a result of the current energy and environmental situation, do conditions exist for the shaping of a global biofuels industry. The development of alternate energy has allowed the concepts of biofuel and energy crops gain importance every day, with greater strength in agricultural and energy policies of both industrialized and developing countries. The motivating factors have been, among others, the evident depletion of fossil fuels, the periodic oil crisis and the so-called greenhouse effect caused by the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. Despite of this, it is important to recognize that biofuels will not end industrialized countries oil dependency, because there will not be enough land and water to meet the energy requirements of the automotive industry. As a result, in order to prevent irreversible changes and reduce the impact of greenhouse gases on Earth’s climate, many countries, including Colombia, have developed strategies to diversify energy production by using renewable sources. The first strategy has been replacing Oil-Derived Fuels with biofuels thus defining a reduction of CO2 emissions generated by mobile sources. It is therefore imperative to begin using alternative energies, that is to say those considered clean and renewable. For this reason biofuels could be a valid choice. Therefore, the use of renewable energy sources as an alternative to fossil fuels is a key strategy to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (Consejo Nacional de Política Económica y Social (CONPES, 2008) It is at this stage that recently a dialogue, debate and confrontation regarding biofuels have been facilitated which allows for the development of new technologies and refineries to produce them. Such importance is not only the result of a sudden leap in scientific knowledge, although that has taken place, but rather it is a leap in governments funding, which seem concerned about oil prices rising and geostrategic dependence on them. Whatever the reason, if funding continues, in the short term a new generation of biofuels could be available. Despite the enthusiasm, promotion and advocacy, there is a question: are biofuels a technical and economically viable energy and environmental option for replacing future fuel imports? But at the same time with the promotion and incentives (legal, regulatory, fiscal and financial framework), of alcohol fuels and bio-oils, employment rates will see a positive impact in farming regions. It is necessary not only to encourage biofuels production but also define programs that support the new refineries’ biomass needs, so that the price of raw materials with dual purpose (food and biofuel) is not affected. Certainly for Colombia it is necessary to diversify its raw materials portfolio for anhydrous alcohol and biodiesel production, incentivize the research and development of proprietary technology programs that produce biofuels at competitive levels for the domestic demand in the short and medium term and, in the long term to start exports. In order to delay the depletion of reserves, to avoid the rising cost of imports, reduce gas emissions and the impact of particulate matter into the atmosphere, the policies of replacing energy sources, for the Colombian biofuel industry, provide an excellent opportunity due to the oil rising price, i.e. energy vulnerability risk decreasing. In general, the text aims to illustrate the production and replacement of fossil fuels with bioenergy (ethanol, biodiesel), the progress, uncertainties and problems resulting from these processes for new energies generation and use, mainly with regards to the food safety and environmental consequences of poor countries. In particular, it presents the political, regulatory and legal framework, by which the Colombian government promotes the production and use of biofuels.
- Sede Medellín