Online Geography Resources



Geography Starter


What have the following three foodstuffs got to do with biofuels?
The answer can be found here.
Geography Activities


Oilseed and Pylon
Image: Oilseed and Pylon, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from leejordan's photostream

What are biofuels?

Biofuels are any kind of fuel made from living things, or from the waste they produce.

This is a very long and diverse list, including:

  • wood, wood chippings and straw
  • pellets or liquids made from wood
  • biogas (methane) from animals' excrement
  • ethanol, diesel or other liquid fuels made from processing plant material or waste oil

In recent years, the term "biofuel" has come to mean the last category - ethanol and diesel, made from crops including corn, sugarcane and rapeseed.

Are biofuels climate-friendly?

In principle, biofuels are a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional transport fuels.

However, energy is used in farming and processing the crops, and this can make biofuels as polluting as petroleum-based fuels, depending on what is grown and how it is treated.

Where are biofuels used?

Production of ethanol doubled globally between 2000 and 2005, with biodiesel output quadrupling.

Brazil leads the world in production and use, making about 16 billion litres per year of ethanol from its sugarcane industry.

Sixty percent of new cars can run on a fuel mix which includes 85% ethanol.

The European Union has a target for 2010 that 5.75% of transport fuels should come from biological sources, but the target is unlikely to be met.


Task 1

Organize the following ten statements into two columns - arguments for and arguments against biofuels. There should be 5 statements in each column.
They can be grown on land not needed or unwanted for cereal crops for food.
They are regarded as cleaner and more sustainable at a time when oil is increasingly expensive.
Growing crops for biofuels means that there are less food crops being grown which translates into shortages and price rises.
Oxfam warns that 60m people in Asia, Africa and South America are threatened with possible eviction to make way for "green" fuel plantations, such as palm oil, soya or sugar cane.
The government believes that biofuels reduce emissions by 50-60% compared to fossil fuels.
Some scientists and environmental groups believe biofuels do more harm than good because of the energy needed to grow them, the use of fertilisers and the carbon dioxide they cause through deforestation.
A recent World Bank report said that biofuels had pushed up food prices by 75 per cent and led to food riots in several poor countries.
The demand for biofuels has led to millions of acres of rainforest in Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa and Brazil being cleared for crops.
Biofuels will help farmers in poorer countries who can grow the necessary crops.
They will help cut harmful emissions, reduce the impact of climate change and cut dependence on oil.

Task 2

Produce a poster selling seats on the first commercial flight which is powered solely with biofuels. It doesn't have to be for Virgin Airlines - you could make up your own airline! Your poster must explain to people the benefits of the flights against traveling on a normal aviation fuel powered flight.

Extension Task

Imagine you are a press officer for an environmental organization such as Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace. What statement would you make to the press at the time of the first commercial flight powered solely by biofuels. Would you be full of support or would you be casting doubts about the environmental credentials of the flight.
Geography Review


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