Palm Oil Failing as Biofuel
Arthur Max, AP
Only a few years ago, oil from palm trees was viewed as an ideal biofuel: a cheap, renewable alternative to petroleum that would fight global warming. Energy companies began converting generators and production soared.
Now, it’s increasingly seen as an example of how well-meaning efforts to limit climate-changing carbon emissions may backfire.
Marcel Silvius, a climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, led a team that compared the benefits of palm oil to the ecological harm from destroying virgin Asian rain forests to develop lucrative new plantations.
His conclusion: “As a biofuel, it’s a failure.”
(2 April 2007)
Related in the Guardian April 4: The biofuel of the future driving an ecological disaster now.
Eco-friendly palm oil could help alleviate poverty in Indonesia
Palm oil is not a failure as a biofuel
Rhett A. Butler, Mongabay
The Associated Press (AP) recently quoted Marcel Silvius, a renowned climate expert at Wetlands International in the Netherlands, as saying palm oil is a failure as a biofuel. This would be a misleading statement and one that doesn’t help efforts to devise a workable solution to the multitude of issues surrounding the use of palm oil.
…Palm oil is quite obviously not a failure as a biofuel–it is derived from perhaps the most productive energy crop on the planet. A single hectare of oil palm may yield nearly 6,000 liters of crude biodiesel. In comparison, soybeans and corn generate only 446 and 172 liters per hectare, respectively. The problem with palm oil is not its yield, but how it is produced. Presently much of the world’s palm oil is coming out of the forests of southeast Asia–increasingly in the biodiverse rainforests of Indonesia.
…Environmental groups say that clearing for oil palm plantations is directly threatening key habitat for such endangered species as the orangutan, the Bornean Clouded Leopard, and the Sumatran Rhino as well as exacerbating illegal logging already rampant across the region.
Beyond forest-clearing for oil palm, palm oil production often employs large amounts of fertilizer and generates hefty amounts of waste which can pollute local waterways. An added threat comes from the conversion of carbon-rich peatlands for cultivation. Merely draining peatlands releases massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere–Silvius’s own Wetlands International estimates that destruction of these ecosystems and forests in Indonesia alone releases some 2 billion tons of CO2 per year or 8 percent of total anthropogenic emissions of the greenhouse gas.
So yes, as currently practiced, palm oil production often has a significantly negative impact on the environment, but is unlikely that oil palm plantation development will slow anytime soon due to (1) lack of economic alternatives in many areas where the renewable energy source is grown and (2) rising biofuel demand from China.
…Since demand for palm oil isn’t going to go away, Europe’s best approach is to convince Indonesian oil palm producers to cultivate their crop in a manner that’s less damaging to the environment
(4 April 2007)
The biofuel of the future driving an ecological disaster now
Ian MacKinnon, Guardian
The numbers are damning. Within 15 years 98% of the rainforests of Indonesia and Malaysia will be gone, little more than a footnote in history. With them will disappear some of the world’s most important wildlife species, victims of the rapacious destruction of their habitat in what conservationists see as a lost cause.
Yet this gloomy script was supposed to have included a small but significant glimmer of hope. Oil palm for biofuel was to have been one of the best solutions in saving the planet from greenhouse gases and global warming. Instead the forests are being torn down in the headlong rush to boost palm oil production.
More startling is that conservationists believe the move to clear land for this “green fuel” is often little more than a conspiracy, providing cover to strip out the last stands of timber not already lost to illegal loggers.
(4 April 2007)