Ethical Dimensions of Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems

Part 1 - Nuffield Council on Bioethics Report on Biofuels


Part 1 - Nuffield Council on Bioethics Report on Biofuels

Biofuels come from...

Biofuels are fuels generated via a biological/metabolic process. Biofuels can be in a solid, liquid, or gas form. (Fossil fuels are basically very old, i.e., fossilized, biofuels.) Biofuels are actually the oldest among all fuels used by human populations, readily available in forms such as burning wood and dung. Liquid biofuels, such as ethanol and biodiesel, are particularly appealing because they are intended to replace traditional fuels, like gasoline and diesel. Unlike fossil fuels, biofuels are renewable in that they can be grown, for the most part, on demand (within typical biological constraints.) Depending on the method, biofuels are typically "carbon neutral" in that the CO2 released during their burning is CO2 that was captured and stored as a carbohydrate (through photosynthetic respiration). The "carbon neutral" aspect, along with the useful (transportable) form of liquid fuels, makes biofuels quite appealing as part of a broader renewable energy strategy.

Nuffield Report

This lesson focuses on the Nuffield Council on Bioethics report on the ethics of biofuels. Within this report, you should gain an understanding of the history of biofuels, how biofuels are produced, why biofuels are appealing, different biofuels pathways for current and future production, and the main ethical issues that arise in the production of biofuels.

In the Nuffield Report, you need to pay particularly close attention to the various ethical arguments laid out in chapters four and five. Each of the six ethical principles suggested in the Nuffield Report, (Human Rights, Environmental Sustainability, Climate Change, Just Reward, Equitable Distribution of Costs and Benefits, and Duties) is an example of a broader social and environmental impacts issue. (Note: These categories correlate to EDSR matrix 2b.)


Corresponding reading: Pages 8 - 43 of the Nuffield Report on Biofuels.