Carbon News and Info
Climate change news
Energy & biofuels
Monday, 21 January 2008
Britain's august scientific academy, the Royal Society, has called for
better research and policy development on biofuels to ensure they make a
positive rather than damaging contribution to the fight against global
The Society has published a 90-page report, 'Sustainable biofuels:
prospects and challenges', acknowledges the potential value of biofuels
to displace the use of fossil fuels but identifies a host of
complexities that bring into question whether biofuel production and use
can be sustainable economically, socially and environmentally.
The rationale for biofuels is that they can be used in place of fossil
fuels like petrol and diesel yet their production and use sees zero net
emissions of greenhouse gases. Burning fossil fuels sees carbon released
to the atmosphere that would otherwise remain locked up under the
Earth's surface. Burning plant-derived fuels only puts back into the
atmosphere carbon dioxide absorbed by the plants when they were grown.
The report provides a good summary of the concerns emerging globally
over the push towards biofuels. In particular, the impact on food
supplies and prices from the use of grains and other food crops to make
ethanol and biodiesel, and the impact of renewable fuels on greenhouse
gas emissions which can vary significantly depending on their production
A UK parliamentary committee has raised much the same concerns in a call
for a moratorium to be placed on increasing the use of biofuels in
Europe. The European Commission wants renewables fuels to make up 10 per
cent of transport fuels by 2020.
The Royal Society report warns that biofuels are only one part of the
solution to cutting greenhouse emissions from transport, now estimated
to be 20 per cent of total emissions. It looks specifically at the
issues of crop feedstock, refining and distribution in the context of
the UK market and government policies such as the Renewable Fuels
Transport Obligation and national climate targets. But it says a common
set of sustainability criteria should be established internationally
given the expanding trade in the industry and the global nature of the
climate change challenge.
"Unless biofuel development is supported by appropriate policies and
instruments that address these issues, then there is a risk that we may
become locked into inefficient and potentially environmentally harmful
biofuels supply chains," the report concludes.
The Society calls for a greater research and development effort into
each stage of the biofuels supply chain to lift their performance as a
sustainable energy source.
The European Commission has strongly rejected the UK House of Commons
environmental audit committee's moratorium call, saying biofuels are the
currently the fastest option for cutting growing greenhouse gas
emissions from motor vehicles.
Sustainable biofuels: prospects and challenges
Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: http://pacbiofuel.blogspot.com/