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Biofuels: Biodevastation, Hunger & False Carbon Credits

Mae-Wan Ho, Institute for Science in Society
Europe’s thirst for biofuels is fuelling deforestation and food price hikes, exacerbated by a false accounting system that awards carbon credits to the carbon profligate nations. A mandatory certification scheme for biofuels is needed to protect the earth’s most sensitive forest ecosystems, to stabilise climate and to safeguard our food security.
Biofuels not necessarily carbon neutral nor sustainable

Biofuels are fuels derived from crop plants, and include biomass directly burnt, and especially biodiesel from plant seed-oil, and bioethanol from fermenting grain, sap, grass, straw or wood [1] (Biofuels for Oil Addicts, SiS 30). Biofuels have been promoted and mistakenly perceived to be ‘carbon neutral’, that they do not add any greenhouse gas to the atmosphere; burning them simply returns to the atmosphere the carbon dioxide that the plants take out when they were growing in the field. This ignores the costs in carbon emissions and energy of the fertiliser and pesticides used for growing the crops, of farming implements, processing and refining, refinery plants, transport, and infrastructure for transport and distribution. The extra costs in energy and carbon emissions can be quite substantial particularly if the biofuels are made in one country and exported to another, or worse, if the raw materials, such as seed oils, are produced in one country to be refined for use in another. Both are very likely if current trends continue.
(11 Dec 2006)

Biofuels seen as a luxury China cannot afford

Yahoo!Finance – Singapore
China cannot afford to embark on industrial production of grain-derived biofuels because supplies of corn and other crops are needed to feed the country’s 1.3 billion people.

“It would be a disaster for us if we depend on a huge amount of corn and other grains for energy,” said Zhai Huqu, president of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, in comments quoted by the official China Daily.

China, which relies mostly on polluting energy sources like coal, has set a goal of producing about six million tons of cleaner-burning substitutes such as ethanol, which is derived from corn, by 2010 and 15 million tons by 2020.

But with prices of corn and other grains soaring as demand rises in China and arable land increasingly being swamped by development, top officials cast doubt on such goals.
(12 Dec 2006)

Sun worship

Jean-Michel Severino, The Guardian
…Biomass, on the other hand, has several advantages. Supplies of it are large and available throughout the world. Moreover, the technology necessary to convert it into energy – including high-yield burning, gas conversion, and liquefaction into synthetic fuel – has long been mastered. Widely used during World War II, this technology has since advanced considerably.

Biomass energy, however, is the victim of unfair competition from fossil fuels. Oil’s price reflects its extraction, refining, and distribution costs, but not that of creating the raw material. Millions of years and 200 tonnes of plant matter are necessary to produce one litre of oil, whereas just 15 kilograms of plant matter are required to make one litre of synthetic fuel.

After the oil glut, with oil below $20 a barrel, interest in developing energy from biomass ebbed, attractive only to “green” militants and those interested in fundamental science. Yet the potential is immense. The planet’s biomass – forests, pastureland, savannas, and crops – make up productive capital that generates a 10% “return” every year. Like a battery that runs out and is then recharged by the sun, this supply is renewable indefinitely, as long as it is managed properly. The annual return on this capital is currently estimated at 60 billion tonnes, yet only two billion tonnes is consumed for food purposes and 10 billion tonnes for energy.

Increasing the responsible use of this energy source would contribute to the fight against climate change by reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and diminishing the amount of fossil fuel required to produce energy. Moreover, its abundance in southern countries promises to facilitate their economic development. Considered the “energy of the poor” until today, biomass could become a source of wealth if it is grown and harnessed with the support of the international community.

Thus, “energy crops” could be developed to produce biofuel. Residue from forest, agricultural, and agro-industrial activities could be collected and converted. For example, the six million tonnes of waste produced annually by Niger could theoretically be used to meet that country’s entire energy needs.

However, in many places, energy cropping would certainly compete with food crops. Long-term estimates project that over a 50-year time horizon, most of the planet’s arable land would have to be used to feed the world and for forest conservation. Thus, areas dedicated to energy production, particularly biofuel, may not reach the level that societies would wish. But, while such competition would reveal new global scarcities, it would also bring higher prices, thereby encouraging producers to increase yields and productivity.

Thus, while cultivating energy would create new constraints, it would also open new possibilities for many economic actors. The farmer and the forest worker could become more involved in the market, the mine engineer could begin to take an interest in crop fields, the banker in plant shares, etc. But, in order to prepare for a scaling up of energy cropping, new policies must be implemented, both in northern and southern countries, in terms of agriculture, land and water management, protection of biodiversity, fuel taxes, and information and awareness raising.
Jean-Michel Severino is the CEO of France’s international development agency, the Agence Française de Développement.
(13 Dec 2006)

South Africa: Biofuels Industry ‘Could Drive Up Staple Food Price’

John Yeld, Cape Argus (Cape Town, South Africa)
The government’s decision to establish a biofuels industry — producing fuel from agricultural crops – has been taken without proper consultation and could drive up the cost of maize, a staple food.

This is the warning from “dismayed” NGOs, Citizens United for Renewable Energy and Sustainability (CURES) and Earthlife Africa Johannesburg, following last week’s cabinet announcement that it had approved a biofuels plan.
(12 Dec 2006)