This is part of the America's Future series airing on FOX News Channel, looking at the challenges facing the country in the 21st century.
NORMANDY, France — Renowned the world over for its culinary tradition, France is now turning its cash crops and prized produce into biofuel, a shift that has some critics up in arms.
As gasoline prices and environmental concerns mount, Paris believes that cleaner and more efficient biofuels are a recipe for success.
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“The French government thinks it's a good alternative to conventional fuel,” said Xavier Montagne, deputy scientific director at the state-backed French Petroleum Institute.
While the United States has the lead in producing ethanol, mostly from corn and wheat, Europe is the biggest producer of biodiesel, which it derives from crops like rapeseed and soybeans.
French farmer Jean-Charles DesChamps raises crops for use in making both fuels.
"It's a good business,” he said. “We've increased our output for several years now.”
But as in the United States and elsewhere, there is debate over biofuels in France. The question is whether French crops should help power cars, buses and trucks or whether they should be grown for food.
The rising price and falling supplies of food have triggered riots around the world. Biofuel production, which diverts farmland and crops to energy use, has been blamed to varying degrees.
Some critics say government support for biofuel in Europe and the United States looks like a bad investment.
”You can't consider that energy could come in first, instead of feeding people,” said Jerome Frignet, director of the biodiesel campaign at Greenpeace France.
So the buzzword in Europe is now sustainability for new biofuel production. Research is focused on a second generation of fuel based on non-food crops and waste, which would have a less adverse environmental impact.
“The message from Europe is, find a biofuel that works and do it right,” said Ralph Sims, who works for the Renewable Energy Unit at the International Energy Agency, which advises its 27 member nations on energy policy.
But experts say a biofuel breakthrough is still a long way off. In the meantime, Europe is trying to meet its pre-set goals to ensure that biofuels constitute 10 percent of all road transport gas.
To meet that standard, Europe has been pumping up its biodiesel statistics by blending in small amounts of biofuel with all the diesel sold.
It's a strategy of which many people in France are unaware, though some say that as long as it helps the environment, they support the move.
So despite criticism from some environmental groups, biofuels remain an ever more refined ingredient in the complex global energy stew.