Open access

Biofuels and Energy Self-Sufficiency: Colombian Experience

Written By

Elkin Alonso Cortés-Marín and Héctor José Ciro-Velázquez

Submitted: October 19th, 2010 Published: August 1st, 2011

DOI: 10.5772/17199

From the Edited Volume

Biofuel's Engineering Process Technology

Edited by Marco Aurélio dos Santos Bernardes

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1. Introduction

The 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 & 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.

2. Energy replacement and consumption

For operating the machines, during this century and part from the previous: man has used greater amounts of energy from fuels. Fuels coming from forest resources like wood and natural energy coming from sun have not been enough to satisfy the energy appetite that this modern civilization has (Silvestrini, 2000).

This growing demand has created an energy crisis that has led to create programs, proposals, funding and research, to find processes for greater efficiency in energy generation, consumption reduction and uncover alternative sources that allow a diverse offering and increase life span of existing resources.

As long as societies develop, it is clear that energy dependence increases. As a result, the search for more efficient, cleaner, more economic new energy sources and fuels becomes a social need. Therefore, in many processes and business it is possible and feasible to replace oil with natural gas; electric power with solar power; firewood with biogas; tractors with animal traction, etc. At the moment, there is an increase and trend for the conversion of internal combustion engines (ICE) that use gasoline by replacing them with CNG (compressed natural gas). Several CNG dispensers have been installed in the main cities of Colombia. The introduction and claimed benefits have been linked with reductions in pollution and operation costs.

Mankind’s welfare has always been associated with high-energy availability; unfortunately a society’s progress is directly related to its level of consumption. Man needs energy to survive, manage his environment and produce goods. In distant times, at least, he needed energy to keep from starving. Over millions of years, the time it took to get from primitive forms to its present forms; mankind’s evolution is closely linked to the different forms and quantities of energies that were available during each period. The energy consumption growth per capita and energy control has been a constant feature. Evolution changed Man from a gathering society, to a hunting society, an agriculture society, until today becoming a technological society, where per capita consumption in the U.S.A is close to 450 MBTU/inhab. Perhaps primitive man during his tenure in a gathering society consumed no more than 10 BTU/inhab. This growth in consumption is an indication of progress and risks as well as the complexities of the social organizations in which we live.

Although the safety and quality of our energy supply is of real concerns, we must avoid viewing the energy problem from a local perspective, surrounding countries, and in short term perspectives, now and in the near future. A realistic and deep approach regarding the energy issue must consider that a third of humanity lacks supply of electricity and any other form of advanced energy. It must take into account the safety of supplies for future generations and must be aware of the consequences of the environmental impact that energy production and consumption are having on the planet being passed on to our descendants. The amount of energy needed in the future mainly depends on its efficient production and use. With the purpose of evaluating energy efficiency, energy intensity may be applied as an indicator, i.e. energy consumption per GDP unit in each country. Along the way a trend in energy intensity reduction can be observed alongside the increase in economic development (Pérez, 2002).

Since the 70s it has been common to correlate the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with countries’ energy consumption. In the beginning it was an indicator of a developing country to see their energy consumption growing: more infrastructures and vehicles, appliances, heating and air conditioning systems, more power and better quality demand. It went from a traditional economy based on biomass combustion to an economy that makes a general use of electricity and fossil fuels, both for automotive and industrial use. On the other hand, increased consumption means more man-made fibers to fulfill clothing demands, larger workplaces and leisure trips, more housing space and in general more services. A country’s welfare for better or worse is associated with increased income and this leads to an energy consumption increasing per capita (Valero, 2004).

In the last thirty years, global energy use has increased almost 70%, but this growth is uneven, because developing countries have almost tripled their energy consumption, while industrialized countries increased by 21%. The world’s energy consumption grows faster than wealth or population because developing countries hold the 77% of the world’s population. On the other hand, since 1973 the countries belonging the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have reduced their energy intensity or energy use by 24%per GDP unit. Energy demand has annually increased more than 2% since the 1973 crisis until today, and if current trends persist, this rate will continue over the next fifteen years (Brown et al., 2000).

Because the population is increasing and countries are getting industrialized, the global energy demand grows. That growth’s projection classified by economic sectors can be seen in Figure 1. In addition, fossil fuels that are used are the main source of pollution in the atmosphere. The important role that energy plays in all human activities is widely recognized. Energy is not only transformed but it also transforms society. With its many developments and uses, energy has substantially changed modern life, by creating new services related to technological progress, and becoming the principal supply for the development and progress of any society.

According to the International Energy Agency (2006), dynamic growth in the biofuels market is associated with the evolution of the world’s demand for primary energy, where fossil fuels have increased participation. Energy demand depends on factor’s performance such as:

1. world population increasing

2. economic growth

3. technological developments which allow maximize efficiency production and use

4. implementation of measures towards climate change such as the development of alternative energy sources.

Thus, the IEA estimates that by 2020 energy demand will be 16,000 Mtoe (Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent), it means an annual growth rate of 1.7%.

The World Energy Council considers that in the next twenty years, world energy consumption shall approximately increase by 50%, which means it could be possible to provide energy to 4,000 million people (2,000 million that currently do not have it, plus the other 2,000 expected during this period).

But at the moment, energy has six considerable issues that must not be ignored in the scope any global economic analysis (Casilda, 2002).

First problem: production and consumption in unequal distribution around the world: large areas of primary energy production are different from the major consumption areas.

Second problem: has to do with the limited energy sources currently in use. Still nowadays, about 80% of the world's primary energy production comes from fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas), i.e. non-renewable sources and limited reserves.

Third problem: is the dominant role that oil plays within energy supply, oil where there is huge gap between production and consumption.

Fourth problem: comes from the relationship between energy and its development. The current energy consumption per capita is varied, as are the geographic levels of development. If in the coming years part of the developing world were come close to the level of energy consumption of industrialized countries, the world would face a long energy crisis, and Latin America would have an uneven behavior, as countries like Mexico and Venezuela would be favored, the two largest oil producers in the region and others would not, well most of them, due to their dependence. Likewise, developed countries would also be seriously affected.

Fifth major problem: production and energy consumption pose serious environmental problems that affect other productive resources worldwide, which could lead to climate change of irreparable consequences.

Sixth problem: is the ability to increase energy supply, which directly depends on the capital to be allocated for this purpose. In many Latin American countries capital is restricted due to regulations and low energy prices.

The use of different types of (electricity, motion, light or heat) and forms of energy (fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas, hydropower, nuclear energy or alternative energy) necessary for technologic and economic advancement, has produced the energy crisis that, since 1970, questions the possibility of keeping the current development model, in addition to other harmful effects, both because of the uneven development and the environmental consequences (pollution, global warming, etc.)

The nature of non-renewable fossil fuels and the high level of participation within transport sector of the total primary energy consumption and air pollution, have become the force behind promoting research of alternative sources for vehicles, mainly those sources derived from biomass. This has resulted in an increasing environmental consciousness, and seeks to replace fossil fuels or provide blends that reduce their consumption, mainly searching for those sources in agribusiness. Tropical countries play lead roles because it is where the greatest variety of plant species can be found and where the environmental conditions make production of these more advantageous.

Table 1.

Raw materials for biofuel production: Source: Ministerio de Agricultura y Desarrollo Rural, MADR (English: Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development); Portafolio: Goldaman Sachs (2007)

But not all the questions are clear and therefore the UN declares: if growing fields for biofuels production increase disproportionately, food and the environment could be at risk. Increased logging. Also food prices could increase.

For major producing countries, costs of ethanol production range between 32 and 87 USD/barrel (International Energy Agency, 2006). According to the available information, about 47% and 58% of this cost is raw materials, about 13% and 24% for inputs, about 6% and 18% for operation and maintenance costs and, about 11% and 23% to capital costs. It can be said that production costs widely vary between countries due to agro-climatic factors, land availability and labor cost that affect the kind of biomass used as raw material; this factor affects transformation technologies selection.

Figure 2 shows sources of raw materials sources for alcohol and biodiesel production and the corresponding efficiency. Figure 3 and 4 show ethanol efficiency from biomass sources in countries outstanding in their production. There is higher ethanol efficiency from sugar beet, in comparison with sugar cane and corn.

For every ton of cassava, 200 liters of ethanol can be obtained, when making the cassava calculations as a yield base of 25 ton/ha it can be obtained a yield of 5000 liters/ha can be obtained which is lower in comparison to sugar beet but higher compared to corn and sugar cane. With fertilization programs and cassava crops mechanization, yields can be increased to values of 70 ton/ha, which will triple cassava yield in liters/ha (Altin et al., 2001 ).

Another important factor is that biofuels do not work as well as petroleum fuels. In order to increase their production most of the fertile lands would have to be assigned for farming them, which could be counterproductive in a world where hungry and desertification are two problems with difficult solution.

5. Technical considerations

Biodiesel use in diesel engines is more limited. As well as ethanol, biodiesel is produced by fast pyrolysis of lignocellulosic biomass and mainly fermentation, because fast pyrolysis is a more expensive way (Bridgwater et al., 2002), it is a renewable oxygenated fuel with low cetane components (Ikura et al., 2003). Its heating value is about 60% of ethanol, but its high density makes up for its percentage. When using biodiesel in machines and engines there are some problems (Lopez & Salva, 2000) because of its higher viscosity and acidity, tar and fine particles resulting during working hours and solid residues during the combustion.

Following the direction of ethanol research, attempts have been made to overcome these problems by blending bio-oil with diesel to form an emulsion (Chiaramonti et al., 2003). In some success these efforts solve the operation with these fuels, however it is necessary to prove the feasibility and the additional cost of surfactant required to stabilize the blending which is a barrier for using it.

It must be considered that the blending of biodiesel and ethanol makes a stable blend and a fast pyrolysis, without using additives and surfactants. Current research on these blends is limited to gas turbines (López & Salva, 2000) and their use in these engines has shown positive results. Biodiesel blended with ethanol shall not exceed the problems of direct ethanol use in diesel engines without modification. However, using modified engines to use ethanol blends of ethanol/biodiesel could overcome the problems related to pure biodiesel combustion. As all new fuels, it is necessary to solve technical problems such as fuel storage, material compatibility, and procedures for turning engines on and off and long operation periods (Nguyen & Honnery, 2008).

5.1. Benefits

However, in Colombia, promotion of biofuels production may represent several benefits:

Energy sustainability: it will help to reduce the use of fossil fuels, thus protecting oil reserves. That is, a decreased risk of energy vulnerability. According to the Ministerio de Minas y Energía (English: Ministry of Mines and Energy) estimates show if new deposits are not found, known reserves will support the demand only for a few years. In this context, adding 10% of ethanol to gasoline helps to support fuel needs. Furthermore, Colombia has set the goal of increasing that percentage to 25% by 2020, which requires the new projects for ethanol production and the use of biomass sources other than sugar cane. In the short term the national program for Biofuels, seeks to improve fuel trade balance, and thus avoid wasting foreign reserves and spending at high prices by importing oil and petroleum products, that now tare close to 100 USD/barrel).

Environmental: biofuels are biodegradable, 85% is degraded in about 28 days.

Ethanol is a compound free of aroma, benzene and sulfur components, so the blending produces less smoke (particulates) and generate lower emissions (Stern, 2006). By using a 10% ethanol blending there is a reduction in CO emissions between 22% and 50% in carbureted vehicles, and a decrease of total hydrocarbons between 20% and 24% (Lopez & Salva, 2000).

With only a 10% blending of ethanol with gasoline, in new cars, 27% of carbon monoxide emissions decrease. In typical Colombian cars with 7-8 years of use it decreases 45%, and there is 20% reduction in hydrocarbons emissions. The effects of these reductions shall be reflected in the environmental emissions indices (Kumar, 2007), and in improve the citizens’ living conditions, for example Bogotá where acute respiratory diseases are public health problems. Diesel blending decreases vehicle emissions such as particulate matter, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2003).

Biodiesel is biodegradable, nontoxic and sulfur and aromatic components free, no matter the source of the oil used in its production. It reduces the soot emission in 40%-60%, and CO between 10% and 50%. Biodiesel can replace diesel (diesel fuel) without changes in ICE. Emissions with primary pollutants; with the exception of nitrogen oxides NOx. Despite these obvious benefits, there is not enough information about the solution to by-products and waste generated from biethanol-vinasses-and biodiesel-glycerin production processes, which are a source of future contamination if they are not properly disposed.

Agricultural development: biofuels production from agricultural raw materials, can guarantee both jobs growth and the possibility of crops diversification, including those for biofuel production. Export expectation, if there is pipe dream with Free Trades Agreement implementation, where Colombia supposedly is able to export bioenergy to poor energy countries, or that require large amounts of fuel for supporting economic growth.

Advantages of Colombia: As a reference, the abundance and variety of raw materials could be pointed out; several regions suitable for cultivation in all the country; guaranteed domestic market; government incentives and appropriate legal framework; high-yield crops, uninterrupted interest in research and development.

5.2. Regulations

Colombia, in order to reduce gasoline and diesel consumption, has implemented policies to encourage domestic production of biofuels. This purpose is economically boosted compared to fuels consumption reduction by the automotive industry and the best environmental indicators of mobile source emissions given the oxygenating effect of biofuels in combustion. For that reason in 2001 it is passed the Act Nº 693 and in 2004 the Act Nº 939, which states regulations on alcohol fuels and vegetable oils in the country, and creates incentives for their production, marketing and consumption.

In this regard, the Government has promoted development of biofuels through different measures to encourage their production and use. In this matter there is a broad regulatory and incentives for bioenergy production in Colombia, namely (Ministerio de Minas y Energía, 2007; Cala, 2003):

Act 693/2001: the regulations about the use of alcohol fuels are thereby stated; Incentives are created for their production, marketing and consumption. This act makes obligatory the use of oxygenated components in fuels for vehicles from cities with more than 500,000 inhabitants. A deadline of 5 years was established for gradual implementation of this regulation.

Act 788/2002: tax reform where exemptions were introduced to the Value Added Tax (VAT), the income tax and surcharge on alcohol fuel blended with gasoline engine.

Act 939/2004: defines the legal framework for the use of biofuels, by which the production and commercialization of biofuels of plant or animal origin, are thereby encouraged for use in diesel engines and other purposes. Exempts biodiesel from VAT and the income tax and establishes a net income exemption for 10 years to new oil palm plantation. This exemption applies to all plantations to be developed before 2015.

Act 1111/2006: establishes a 40% income tax deduction of investments in real productive fixed assets of industrial projects, including financial leasing.

Act 1083 2006: some regulations on sustainable urban planning and other provisions are thereby stated.

Resolution 1289/2005: establishes biofuels criteria quality for their use in diesel engines, states the date of January 1st 2008 as a blending start of 5% of biodiesel with diesel fuel.

Resolution No. 180127/2007: the heading "MD" in Act 4 from Resolution 82439 from December 23th, 1998 is thereby amended and amends Act 1st from Resolution 180822 from June 29th, 2005 and, states the provisions relating to Diesel Fuel pricing structure.

Decree 383/2007: Amends the Foreign-Trade Zones Decree 2685 of 1999, regulates the set up of Special Foreign-Trade Zones for high economic and social impact.

Decree 3492/2007: Act 939 of 2004 is thereby regulated.

Decree 2328/2008: The Intersectoral Commission for Biofuels Management is thereby created.

Decree 4051/2007: Permanent Foreign-Trade Zones area requirements is thereby stated; requirements for stating the existence of a Special and Permanent Foreign-Trade Zone and Industrial User recognition.

Resolution No. 180158/2007: clean fuels are stated thereby in accordance with the Paragraph in Article 1, Act 1083.

Resolution No. 180782/2007: biofuels quality criteria for use in diesel engines as a component of the blending with fossil diesel fuel in combustion processes are thereby amended.

Resolution No. 180212/2007: Resolution 181780 December 29th, 2005 is thereby partially amended, regarding the pricing structure of diesel fuels blended with biofuel for their use in diesel engines.

Decree 2629/2007: provisions for promoting the use of biofuels in the country are thereby stated, as well as applicable measures for vehicles and other motorized devices that use fuels. From January 1st, 2010 timetable is thereby set up for extending the mandatory blending of biofuels of 10% and, 20% from 2012 as well as the requirement that from January 1st 2012, new vehicle parc and other new motorized devices should be Flex-fuel at least 20%, for both E-20 blending (80% of gasoline from fossil fuel, with 20% of alcohol fuel) and B-20 (80% of diesel fuel with 20% of biofuels).

Decree 1135/2009: In connection with the use of alcohol fuels in the country and applicable measures to motor vehicles using gasoline, decree 2629, 2007 is thereby amended. And which states in its article 1: from January 1st, 2012 motor vehicles up to 2000 cm3 manufactured, assembled, imported, distributed and marketed in the country and requiring gasoline to operate, must be soup up so that their engines run Flex-fuel system (E85), i.e. they can work normally by using either basic gasoline or blends composed of basic fossil fuel with at least 85% alcohol fuel. To meet the above, each brand shall sell vehicles in the Colombian market according to the following schedule and provisions:

From January 1st, 2012: 60% of its annual supply must support E85.

From January 1st, 2014: 80% of its annual supply must support E85.

From January 1st, 2016: 100% of its annual supply must support E85.

From January 1st, 2013: vehicles with engine cubic capacity greater than 2000 cm3 from all brands and models shall bear E85.

It is worth mentioning CONPES-3510/2008 document (in English: National Council for Economic and Social Policy document 3510/2008), where a policy to promote the production of sustainable biofuels in Colombia is thereby established, by taking advantage of economic and social development opportunities which are offered by biofuels emerging markets. Thus, it intends to expand the known biomass crops in the country and diversify the energy basket within a framework of production that is financially, socially and environmentally efficient and sustainable, that makes possible to compete in domestic and international markets.

Likewise the promotion of biofuels is also done through: the National Development Plan (NDP), the establishment of a regulatory framework and the development of financial and tax incentives. Also, the National Government has policy guidelines in areas such as: agriculture, research and development, infrastructure and environment that influence biofuels development.

There are also other complementary policy developments in the form of decrees and ministerial decisions that define the technical regulations, quality standards, as well as pricing, margins and rate parameters for fuel ethanol and biodiesel transport. There is an applicable regime in the Foreign-Trade Zone and several soft loan sources for agricultural development (González, 2008).

Among them, in the framework of Agro Ingreso Seguro Program (AIS), financial instruments that provide soft loan sources for growing crops that produce biomass for ethanol and biodiesel production have been implemented. In addition, through the Incentivo a la Capitalización Rural, ICR (in English: Rural Capitalization Incentive) it is promoted, among others, oil palm crops establishment and renewal, and the construction of infrastructure for biomass processing (Consejo Nacional de Política Económica y Social (CONPES, 2008)

Despite this broad regulatory framework, there is uncertainty about changes in: regulation, raw material prices and emerging new technologies. In particular, with gallon prices as defined by state intervention (subsidies), that generates the discussion about how much does it mean for the national treasury, and whether it is advisable or heavy subsidies is fair to benefit a minority that supply biofuels, for even small domestic market and one that is difficult to be exported.

As shown, the Colombian Government has a fairly strong policy and information that allows for investment in projects, sustainable energy and biofuels plans and programs through a set of tools, studies and institutional strengthening.

Therefore, the Colombian Government has promoted assessments that seek to:

1. study the implications of the biofuel industry, from planting crops for biofuel production to the final consumers of ethanol or biodiesel (flex-fuel or normal vehicles);

2. analyze the current infrastructure requirements for the expansion of the biofuel market;

3. know the sector current status, as well as the economic instruments, regulatory elements, policies and tax incentives required or recommended for promoting renewable energy, energy efficiency and biofuels;

4. analyze the renewable energy potential, energy efficiency and carbon credits through the Clean Development Mechanism.

Likewise, institutional strengthening assessment required by the Ministerio de Minas y Energía (English: Ministry of Mines and Energy) (MME), in energy efficiency, renewable energy, bioenergy and carbon financing.

This set of measures that promote the enthusiasm for liquid biofuels such as the mandatory blending of biofuels with fossil fuels and tax incentives, have created a fast artificial growth in biofuel production. These incentives have broad social impacts, as they are resources that do not come into the State, and are taken for solving important issues such as health, education and basic sanitation.

These measures entail high economic, social and environmental costs and should be monitored promptly.

5.3. Current projects under construction

Ethanol: In compliance with the provisions of Act 693/01, the country began to implement initiatives for alcohol fuel from sugar cane. At the moment 5 ethanol plants are running: Incauca, Providencia, Manuelita, Mayaguez and Risaralda refineries that produce about 1,050,000 liters of alcohol fuel a day and this production is mainly to supply the domestic market. It is estimated a domestic demand close to 1,500,000 liters per day to cover the 10% of blending needs.

Likewise, in the country several alcohol production projects are being implemented in several departments: Antioquia, Boyacá, Santander and the coast, derived from different raw materials such as sugar cane, sugar beet, banana and cassava.

Unfortunately, due to the economic crisis there is absence of new plants. Projects are standstill, and Ecopetrol plant would only come into operation in 2011, starting with a production of 385,000 liters a day. At the moment there is another project being developed in Magdalena, where an international company sowed a very large sugar cane area for producing an average of 300,000 liters a day. With this, the 20% blending could be reached by in 2012 without any problem.

Biodiesel: At the moment there are five projects under construction for producing biodiesel from oil palm (Oleoflores – already in production, Odin Energy, Biocombustibles Sostenibles del Caribe) and two in the eastern region (Biocastilla, Bio D. SA). In addition, they are other projects under development, one in the central region (ECOPETROL), one in the eastern region (Manuelita), one in the west region and another in the north region. In 2008 it is expected they shall enter into production, with a total amount of 400,000 t/year (19).

How are investments for biodiesel production doing? Construction of the Ecopetrol plant in Barrancabermeja is almost over. With this in total there will be seven plants in the country. A total installed capacity of 526,000 biodiesel tonnes a year may be achieved.

6. Conclusions

It must be accepted that the so-called modern man now has the same challenge our ancestors solved centuries ago, that life is not over. Availability of natural resources and the way we use them, force us to shape a scenario of technological innovations and social coexistence, in which the ethics of life prevails over money; this becomes more valid in this global world that requires new economic, lifestyle, consumption and value models.

Society needs energy for its development, but development does not necessarily imply a waste of energy. In any productive process, materials and water may or may not be wasted, but it is certain that it will consume energy and that energy consumption will be associated with a real environmental impact. If energy production takes on all costs, it would be much more expensive.

New energy sources are the new economic, political and even environmental strategy. Their importance is such that currently over 30 raw materials are being tested worldwide. Despite this big boost, they do not yet provide a solution to the global energy problems.

Biofuels should not be taken as the solution to the energy and environmental problem, but as part of a complex human and energy project where leading countries still disagree on a solution. If Bioenergy is properly used, it provides a historic opportunity to contribute to the growth of many of the world's poorest countries.

A reality must be emphasized; alcohol fuel is more expensive than gasoline and biodiesel. It is not good business that a market economy develops isolated and organically; the market must be intervened so these alternatives are viable, because rival fuel is cheaper. Oil is in the reservoir, while cassava, sugar cane, oil palm or other crops used as raw material must be planted, and in expensive lands. Then, by definition, we talk about a project that is viable only if the State intervenes so it can be operated outside the framework of the market.

The world faces complex challenges and life’s survival on the planet can not be supported on the solution to the renewable energy alternative based on biofuels, as it would grow the replacement of food crops with monocultures, deforestation for energy crops, while it would boost the diversity extinction, fertile lands and water reduction, and the social consequences population displacement causes.

In that sense the FAO has declared: Biofuel policies and subsidies should be urgently reviewed in order to preserve the goal of world food security, protect poor farmers, promote broad-based rural development and ensure environmental sustainability. But also states: Growing demand for biofuels and the resulting higher agricultural commodity prices offer important opportunities for some developing countries. Agriculture could become the growth engine for hunger reduction and poverty alleviation, production of biofuel feedstocks may create income and employment, if particularly poor small farmers receive support to expand their production and gain access to markets.

It also requires a certification system that ensures that biofuels will be marketed only if they have the necessary environmental requirements.

Colombia is not and cannot be indifferent to the global market trend for crude oil and its derivatives. This fact gives the opportunity for goods production, such as biofuels, that allow diversity in the energy basket available in the domestic market and that can be exported to international markets. However, a necessary condition for competing in the international market is efficient conditions for the production of these goods.

Colombia has enough available land for growing biofuels, from 14 million hectares for agriculture business and 20 for livestock, only 5 million are currently in use and the remaining is for extensive cattle ranching; a better use could be biofuels which would provide plant cover and rural income opportunities. It also holds high productivity in sugar production from sugar cane, but such activity has been focused on agribusiness models, where production is held in few companies from renowned economic groups.

Although in Colombia ethanol has been a biofuel pioneer, biodiesel projects are gaining strength and this fuel can have a greater impact and national coverage.

In the country there is a poor use of natural resources and a high dependence on them; there is not full agreement between vocation or fair and the use of resources. Productivity paradigm boosts to predatory models and the economic efficiency and profitability fallacy as sole indicator, productive projects that do not consider social and environmental benefits are presented.

Then, in the previous horizon, it is required to develop a long-term sustainable agriculture that is compatible with the environment. The aim of this is a critical reassessment of the current modernizing model, taking into account that different technological offers, articulated to a diverse set of socio-economic and environmental factors, require different technological solutions. Consequently, decisions about biofuels should consider the food safety situation but also land and water availability.

Energy has deep and broad relations with the three sustainability dimensions (economic, social and environmental); i.e., it must go into the integration, harmonization and optimization. The services energy provides help to meet several basic needs such as: water supply, lighting, health, ability for producing, transporting and processing food, mobility and information access so that access to a certain amount of advanced forms of energy such as electricity or liquid fuels and gaseous fuels, should be included among the inalienable human rights in the XXIst century. Energy supply safety and energy prices are crucial for economic development. On the other hand, it is clear that many ways of producing and consuming can reduce environmental sustainability. We must ask: is the current energy production and consumption sustainable? One of the most important challenges humanity faces is to find the way to produce and use energy so that in the long term human development is promoted, in all its dimensions: social, economic and environmental.

Finally, to balance the enthusiasm with objectivity: it is necessary to carefully study the economic, social and environmental bioenergy impact before deciding how fast it is desired to be developed, and what technologies, policies, investment and research strategies to follow.

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Written By

Elkin Alonso Cortés-Marín and Héctor José Ciro-Velázquez

Submitted: October 19th, 2010 Published: August 1st, 2011