Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Biodiesel: Awareness, Use and Perceptions of Students at Four U. S. Universities

Academic journal article NACTA Journal

Biodiesel: Awareness, Use and Perceptions of Students at Four U. S. Universities

Article excerpt

Abstract

Knowledge about renewable energy is limited and a lack of information pertaining to biofuels is prevalent. If consumers believe there are negative consequences towards use of biofuels then they are less likely to use biodiesel. Based on perceptions portrayed through media formats, the battle between food and fuel has been formulated and presented to the public. This study sought to examine selected college students' awareness, use and perceptions of biodiesel and determine if there was variance between selected regions based on gender, major (agriculture vs. non-agriculture), type of area where students were raised (farm, rural non-farm, town or city), or political orientation (conservative, moderate, or liberal). Findings indicated that one in five (20.9%) participants reported owning or driving a vehicle fueled by diesel while over three-fourths (76.4%) had heard of biodiesel. Furthermore, males, agriculture majors, and students raised on a farm were significantly more likely to have heard of biodiesel than females, non-agriculture majors, and students raised in a town or city. Illinois State University students tended to be more likely to have purchased biodiesel, be more positive about the benefits of biodiesel and have a lower level of concern about the effects of biodiesel.

Introduction

Liquid biofuels have received renewed interest among the public, government, and industry due to diminishing petroleum supplies, increasing energy demands, the geographical concentration of known petroleum reserves, and concerns about the environment (Koonin, 2006; Rojey et al., 2010). The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandated that 136 billion liters of renewable biofuels be in use by 2022 (Schnepf et al., 2010). Furthermore, the National 25 x '25 Committee, comprised of U.S. leaders in agriculture and forestry, has set a goal that farms and ranches will produce 25% of U.S. energy by 2025 (Acker, 2008).

Although there is strong political and agricultural industry support for first generation biofuels, not all critics have been convinced of the net benefits of increased production and use. Some question the performance (Skipper, 2007), environmental and economic impacts (Lehrer, 2010), and food availability and cost effects (Pimentel et al., 2009) of first generation biofuels. According to Acker (2008), research and education must play key roles in meeting the U.S. National 25 x '25 Committee's renewable energy goals. One research priority (Acker, 2008) is to "assess consumer behavior and attitudes towards renewable energy" with the goal of understanding perceived advantages and concerns (p. 57). Evidence has further been found that political affiliation may predispose persons to oppose biofuels (Cacciatore et al., 2012).

Research has shown that individual judgments often depend on how an issue is framed by the news media and other opinion leaders (Chang, 2009; Druckman, 2001; Van de Velde et al., 2010). Additionally, Chang (2009) identified fuel vs. food as a commonly used media frame for reporting on biofuels. The food vs. fuel frame portrays increased biofuel production resulting in decreased food production and/or increased food prices. The acceptance of biodiesel could be improved by utilizing alternative communication channels that may overcome national, geographic, social and cultural, or other boundaries (Jensen et al., 2011 ).

The theory of reasoned action (TRA) (Ajzen et al., 1980) posited that human actions, such as using biodiesel, are guided by three considerations: (a) beliefs about the consequences of an action (behavioral beliefs), (b) beliefs about the normative expectations of others (normative beliefs), and (c) beliefs about the presence of factors that may promote or hinder the behavior (control beliefs). Taken as a whole, these beliefs lead to the formation of behavioral intentions which serve as precursors to behavior (such as use or non-use of biodiesel). …

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