John Kaweske, Sustainable, SugarcaneAs we move further away from fossil fuel consumption and other unsustainable sources of energy, we are discovering more efficient and cost effective methods of powering the world. In no other facet of the alternative energy industry is this more prevalent than in biodiesel. Take for example soybeans. Formerly understood as the “primary source of plant-based oil used for biodiesel production,” a recent study conducted by the University of Illinois proves this to be an inefficient allocation of resources. In fact, it would be better across the board to utilize sugar cane rather than soybeans.

Initially, the University of Illinois began the study because, quite simply, soybeans cannot provide enough energy to sustain the United States. As the world’s leading consumer of oil, one barrel per acre of soybean fields is not a feasible alternative to the petroleum-based oils we currently rely on. With this in mind, Stephen Long, the lead investigator on the U of I project, set out to discover a productive crop that “could grow on land” and was not a primary source of food. The answer: sugarcane.

Within a year of the project’s launch, the team was boosting oil production by 20 times. Now producing even more fuel, it is clear that “oil cane” could very well be the solution we have been searching for. Not to mention, sugar cane has an increased cold tolerance and a more effective photosynthesis process, thus meaning it can be grown in more hostile environments, which essentially means more plant-based oil for us.

Just as well, the cost-benefits of using sugarcane are quite notable. Currently, the production costs of obtaining oil from soybeans is 4.10$. With sugarcane, it’s 2.20$. So, clearly, when compared to soybeans, sugarcane, or rather oil cane, is considerably more effective. That all said, the real question is whether or not oil cane poses a feasible solution to petroleum-based oil. In light of this, the fact is that 2.20$ is not tremendously less than the current price of gasoline.

However, prices of gasoline fluctuate substantially and are bound to increase significantly in the future. Oil cane, on the other hand, will not. Politicians are encouraged to look at the bigger picture, the future, when determining current legislation. Should there be a large-scale transition substituting oil cane for petroleum, future generations will be able to depend on oil that is not only renewable, but domestic as well. With domestic oil that reduces our impact on the environment, we can properly plan and more importantly sustain our future starting today.

Whereas in the past green solutions seemed vague, too expensive, and out-of-reach to pose a legitimate alternative to fossil fuel reliance, we now live in an era where these solutions are tangible, cost-effective, and in the palm of our hand. The future is not tomorrow. It’s today; and “oil cane” is just the beginning.