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Bioenergy/Biofuels Workers


Renewable energy sources have been around for thousands of years. Wood, corn, soy, aquatic plants, and animal waste are a small sampling of the types of organic, replenishable materials that can be converted into fuels to power cars and trucks, and provide heat and electricity to homes and buildings. In fact, wood is one of the earliest biofuels—cavemen were the first to figure out how to use it to improve their quality of life. With fire, food was cooked and hot, homes were warm, and nights were brighter. Vegetable oil is another early biofuel. In 1990 Rudolf Diesel, the inventor of the diesel-fueled engine (as you may have guessed), demonstrated his engine at the World Exhibition in Paris, France, by using peanut oil to power it. Ford's Model T, which was produced from 1903–1926, was designed to run on hemp-derived biofuel. Back then, the abundance (not to mention the lower price and better efficiency) of fossil fuels pushed interest in biofuels to the wayside. Petroleum, among others, became the star.

As history has proven, one side effect of fuel shortages and energy crises is usually renewed interest in alternative energy sources. When faced with acute fuel shortages during World War II, Germany turned to potato-derived ethanol and wood-derived methanol as sources of fuel. The fuel crisis in the 1970s highlighted America's dependence on foreign-imported oil and the need to explore other sources of energy. America's consumption of foreign oil was at a high by the early 1970s, while production of oil on U.S. lands was at an all-time low. The fuel crisis started in 1973, when Middle Eastern countries, to illustrate their anger over outsiders' involvement in Arab-Israeli conflicts, placed an embargo (meaning a legal stoppage) on petroleum exports to Western nations, including the United States and the Netherlands. As a result, awareness of natural resources and energy conservation grew. More people started buying smaller, fuel-efficient cars, as opposed to the gas-guzzlers that had once been popular. Carpooling and mass transit were heavily promoted as ways to save energy and money. And interest in and funding for bioenergy and biofuels research grew.

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