Biofuel is any sort of fuel that is created through the biological process of carbon fixation. Biological carbon fixation is the process in which a living organism converts inorganic forms of carbon (namely, carbon dioxide) into organic structures using energy from the sun during photosynthesis.
Burning Fossil Fuel: Not the Greatest Idea
In contrast, fossil fuels take millions of years in the very slow process of fossilization. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide that has been collected and stored in the earth for hundreds of millions of years. Clearly it is not a good idea to release all that stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere at the rate we are doing so since we have no mechanism for carbon re-uptake that can match the rate at which we are releasing it. The result is of course increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere and the global warming we are now experiencing.
Biofuels however represent a cycle that is theoretically balanced in that a plant takes up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while burning the plant (or extracts from the plant ) releases that CO2 back into the atmosphere, and the process repeats. As long as the plant produces more energy than is required in its cultivation and processing, we have a net positive energy result.
The big problem (presumably a transitional one) is that we currently still use a lot of fossil fuel – yes, you got it – even in the cultivation and processing of biofuels.
Corn Ethanol: Not All it’s Cracked Up to Be
Corn ethanol has its own well documented challenges – namely that it is either a net energy consumer (or if you believe the more optimistic studies) or is at best only capable of producing only about 30% more fuel than required to produce it. And that’s not to mention that corn ethanol takes lots of arable land out of food production.