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Controversy mounts in EU over fall-out from biofuel

Pete Harrison, Reuters UK
Fresh controversy is mounting within the European Union over biofuels and their unintended impact on tropical forests and wetlands, documents show.

One leaked document from the EU’s executive, the European Commission, suggests biofuel from palm oil might get a boost from new environmental criteria under development.

But another contains a warning from a top official that taking full account of the carbon footprint of biofuels might “kill” an EU industry with annual revenues of around $5 billion.

The European Union aims to get a tenth of its road fuels from renewable sources by the end of this decade, but has met with criticism that biofuels can force up food prices and do more harm than good in the fight against climate change.

Most of the 10 percent goal will be met through biofuels, creating a market coveted by EU farming nations, which produce about 10 billion litres a year, as well as exporters such as Brazil, Malaysia and Indonesia…
(11 Feb 2008)

British Airways to fly jets on green fuel made from London’s rubbish by 2014

Sarah Arnott, The Independent
British Airways and the US bioenergy company Solena are to establish Europe’s first green jet fuel plant in the East End of London.
When it is up and running in 2014, the factory will turn 500,000 tonnes of landfill waste – including household and industrial rubbish – into 16 million gallons of carbon-neutral aviation fuel every year.

It will produce enough fuel to power all of BA’s flights from nearby City Airport twice over. And with 95 per cent fewer emissions than traditional kerosene, the plan will be equivalent to taking 48,000 cars off the roads.

There are four sites under consideration for the plant, which will be built and run by Washington DC-based Solena, with BA guaranteed to buy all of its output. It will employ up to 1,200 people. Alongside the reduction in carbon from the jet fuel itself, it will also cut the methane produced from landfill and generate 20 megawatts of electricity per year as a byproduct.

Biofuel for aeroplanes has made slow progress, hampered by tricky technicalities including the necessary high energy capacity, and the extreme cold at which it must operate. BA’s rival Virgin conducted the first commercial flight powered by biofuel in February 2008, and last January saw the first algae-fuelled jet take off from Houston.
(16 Feb 2008)

BA’s biofuels plans mean a lot of garbage: the problem of “peak waste”

Ed Crooks, Financial Times (journalist’s blog)
BA is planning a biofuels plant, as it makes its bid for the “green airline” ticket. Its proposed project, to be built in east London, would employ 1,200 people and produce 16m gallons of aviation fuel a year.

… There is a very real prospect that we will hit “peak waste” before we hit peak oil.

Siting the plant in London is a smart move, because the city is the Ghawar of waste: the country’s largest upstream source of supply. The plant would use organic waste such as food, thrown away in astonishing volumes by the British public, which would be gasified and then converted into liquid fuels by the standard Fischer-Tropsch process used for gas-to-liquids plants.

However, there is a fundamental problem with this plan: a shortage of garbage. London throws away about 3m tonnes of that organic waste every year. That might sound a lot, but BA’s plant would need to use 500,000 tonnes a year to produce its 16m gallons. That is one sixth of London’s output, or the waste from 1.3m people. About 1m tonnes a year is already finding productive uses, so BA’s demand will be about a quarter of the city’s available waste.

… The problem, strange as it may seem, is that there is just not enough waste in the world for the process to make a radical difference to energy supplies. “Fuel from garbage” is a seductive idea, and at the margin it can make a contribution, but the margins are where it is likely to stay.

It also suggests that there may come a time when you will no longer have to pay people to take your waste away, but will be able to sell it. That has already happened with many types of commercial waste. How long before householders have to keep their bins inside the house, for fear of “garbage bandits” snatching their precious potato peelings and banana skins?
(15 February 2010)
The Financial Times makes a nod to the concept of “nutrient recycling” — you can’t get something for nothing. Ultimately, garbage will be much more productive if its nutrients are returned to the soil, keeping agriculture afloat. It was too long ago that human and animal excrement was highly valued for the agricultural nutrients they contained.

Love FT’s description of London: “the Ghawar of waste.”