Biofuels kill rain forests & increase carbon

Generating energy from crops which can be planted year after year sounds as if it would be better than using carbon based fuel from finate sources.

But what if rain forests are being clear felled to plant oil palms for biofuel and what if the palms grown generate more carbon than petroleum?

Because oil palms don’t absorb as much CO2 as the rainforest or peatlands they replace, palm oil can generate as much as 10 times more carbon than petroleum, according to the advocacy group Food First. Thanks in large part to oil palm plantations, Indonesia is now the world’s third-largest emitter of CO2, trailing only the US and China.

Yet Indonesia aims to expand these plantations from 16 million acres currently to almost 26 million by 2015. If deforestation, which is due largely to oil palm, continues at the present rate, 98 percent of the country’s forest—one of only a handful of large rainforests remaining in the world—will be degraded or gone by 2022. And although Indonesia has strict environmental regulations and formally recognizes customary land rights, those laws are only as effective as the local bureaucrats enforcing them.

Cropping for bioduels is still in its infancy in New Zealand and no-one is clear felling forests to plant them. But another criticism of biofuel crops is that they are replacing food crops and so contributing to global food shortages.

Companies involved with biofuel here say they won’t be using land previously used for food crops but that doesn’t leave a lot of productive land and if it wasn’t already productive you have to ask why?

Could it be that the soils weren’t very fertile in which case a lot of fertiliser will be needed to produce good yields? What’s the environmental impact of that?

Even if they don’t need extra fertiliser, can we be sure that the energy required to cultivate the land, sow and harvest the crops and produce the fuel from them isn’t greater than the energy that will be produced in the end?

Hat Tip: The NZ Week

2 Responses to Biofuels kill rain forests & increase carbon

  1. A lot of good points here. Going further, an important distinction to make is between 1st and 2nd generation biofuels. Very generally, the 1st displace food (e.g., corn ethanol) while the 2nd does not (e.g., switch grass in the US midwest prairies; or waste timber products). 2nd gen technology, however, is a bit behind. The water requirements for at least 1st gen is also a major concern, in addition to the net carbon balance on possible fertiliser spike (as in corn in the US – Gulf of Mexico dead zone). That said, 2nd gen biofuels are a tactical, supplemental option to have up our sleeve.

  2. Mavis says:

    So true. I used biofuels (E10) briefly (when the petrol station attendant told me the ethanol was made from sugar cane ‘cos I thought that reducing human consumption of sugar was probably a good thing) but then I found out it was corn they used. In the face of poverty and hunger it seems immoral to grow food for cars and not for people.

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