Biofuel surge – bane or boon?
The rapid growth of global biofuels production may have 'unintended impacts,' a new report suggests.
Written and researched by Worldwatch Institute, Biofuels for Transport: Global Potential and Implications for Energy and Agriculture takes a close look at the opportunities and risks related to large-scale international development of biofuels.
World biofuels production rose 28% to 44 billion litres in 2006, according to the figures compiled since research on Biofuels for Transport was completed; fuel ethanol was up 22% and biodiesel rose 80%. Although biofuels comprise less than 1% of the global liquid fuel supply, the surge in production of biofuels in 2006 met 17% of the increase in supply of all liquid fuels worldwide last year, the book reveals.
“It is critical to the stability of the climate that we prevent biofuels from expanding at the expense of rainforests and other valuable ecosystems that store carbon and provide other ecological services,” said Suzanne Hunt, who directed a team of 15 researchers from four countries.
“Energy crops should instead be established on the millions of hectares of degraded land that can be found around the world.”
The book finds that large-scale biofuels production can threaten biodiversity, citing the example of palm oil plantations in Indonesia that are encroaching on forests and edging out the endangered orangutan population.
“Current biofuels production methods place a heavy burden on land and water resources, due in part to the fossil fuel- and chemical-intensive corn that is used to produce over half the world’s ethanol,” said Ms Hunt.
Biofuels for Transport evaluates a range of “sustainability” issues relating to the biofuels industry looking at what impact it will have for the global climate and water resources to biological diversity and the world’s poor.
The book concludes that the long-term potential of biofuels is in the use of non-food feedstock, including agricultural and forestry wastes, as well as fast-growing, cellulose rich energy crops such as perennial grasses and trees.
“The question is not whether biofuels will play a major part in the global transportation fuel market, but when and at what price,” said Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute.
“The first priority should be to ensure that the industry develops sustainably so that the problems of an oil-based economy are not replaced by another socially and ecologically bankrupt industry.”