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High-Priced Oil Raises Appeal of Biofuels

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

As oil prices climb, so does interest in fuels made from agricultural products. Many farmers hope biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel will expand their markets.

Government support has helped to make a few renewable fuels profitable. Much of this support is in the form of lower taxes for producers.

In the United States, the American Coalition for Ethanol says Iowa leads the nation in ethanol production. That Midwestern state has twenty-two ethanol refineries. Five more are being built.

But there is debate about biofuels in terms of both energy and agricultural policy. Newspaper opinion pages are a good guide to the positions.

One side basically argues that ethanol cannot replace the huge amounts of oil that American use. Also, some people say using food crops to make fuel could reduce the food supply. That could mean less to send to other countries in times of hunger. The other side argues that the food supply is secure and that biofuels are good for the economy and good for the environment.

Burning petroleum and other fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed as a cause of climate change.

Each day, Americans use more than one thousand million liters of gasoline. Biofuels are still a small part of the national market. But it is estimated that as much as one-fifth of this year’s corn crop could be used for ethanol. Ethanol is the most widely used biofuel.

The Renewable Fuels Association says American producers now make about two hundred eighty thousand barrels of it a day. This is expected to increase by almost half as new refineries are completed.

Making ethanol does not require the whole corn grain. For example, corn oil and corn protein can also be taken from the same grain used to make ethanol. And new technologies are being developed to make ethanol from plant wastes.

All current American cars can use a fuel mixture of up to ten percent ethanol. In many places, ethanol is added to gasoline to cut pollution.

Biodiesel is usually sold as a mixture of petroleum-based fuel and vegetable or animal fats. Many diesel engines can run without changes on mixtures of up to twenty percent plant or animal oils. The National Biodiesel Board says there were sales last year of more than two hundred eighty million liters of biodiesel.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Mario Ritter. You can read transcripts of our reports and listen online at I'm Steve Ember.