Biofuel: Worse than oil?
I am a true believer in clean energy technology, and I think the need for transition away from fossil fuels is very real. However it has often crossed my mind that if it were really that easy to "go green" then we would surely be a lot further down the line by now.
If biofuels truly carried the weight that many environmentalists claim they do, then oil companies would have snapped up many, if not all of the most promising biofuel startups and development firms in fear of being put out of business by the fledgling energy source.
But oil and gas companies remain confident in their traditional source of revenue, they do not appear particularly threatened by any of the new kids on the block. So, do they know something we don't?
Well, UK newspaper The Times may have uncovered something that might explain what they know, and we don't...
Using fossil fuels in vehicles is better for the environment than so-called green fuels made from crops, according to a government study seen by The Times.
Plantations produce huge amounts of carbon
The United Kingdom has set itself a target to significantly raise the level of biofuel in all fuel sold in Britain as part of its larger goal to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2020 (providing a comprehensive global agreement is reached in this time).
But Britain hitting its biofuels target will result in millions of acres of forest being logged or burnt down and converted to plantations. The study, likely to now force a review of the target, concludes that some of the most commonly-used biofuel crops fail to meet the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission.
Under this standard each litre of biofuel should cut emissions by at least 35 percent compared with fossil fuel. However the study shows that palm oil, the major crop for biofuel production, actually increases emissions by 31 percent because of the carbon released when forest and grassland is turned into plantations. Rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.
Clearing rain-forests for biofuel plantations releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, and the expansion of palm oil plantations in Indonesia has made it the world's thrid-largest CO2 producer and forced the orang-utan close to extinction.
Report could kill biofuel industry
Europe's biofuels industry has grown significantly on the back of research that championed it as a leading alternative fuel, the entire EC biofuel sector receives around GBP£3 billion in subsidies. Therefore any changes in land use that may be included in new sustainability standards would seriously jeopardise a increasingly important industry in Europe.
Yet this may have to happen if biofuels are indeed no better at protecting the environment than the fossil fuels they are engineered to replace. But, as The Times reports, the EC hopes to protect its biofuel target by issuing revised standards that would give palm plantations the same status as natural forests.
However, changing the rules so that palm oil plantations no longer breach EC criterion does not change that fact that the practice is a massive cause of green house gas emissions. This latest report could kill the biofuel industry, not just in Europe but across the world. In fact it threatens the validity of the entire alternative energy sector.
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