Biofuels can lead to deforestation says Unilever executive
August 11, 2006
While biofuels are hyped for their potential to off-set fossil fuel use, the shift toward their use should proceed with caution warns Alan Jope, vice president of consumer products giant Unilever. In an August 7 interview with The Times, Jope said that the environmental drawbacks of biofuels is overlooked.
The Times article notes that "Government grants and subsidies for biofuels are also having unintended environmental consequences in the Amazon and South-East Asia, where rain forests are being burnt to clear land for biofuel crops, such as palm oil, and sugar cane, used to produce ethanol." It says that "figures from the OECD show that Europe would need to convert more than 70 per cent of arable land in order to raise the proportion of biofuel used in road transport to 10 per cent."
According to the article, Unilever wants policymakers to "shift the focus to next-generation biofuel technologies that turn wood chips and straw into fuel. These have less effect on the food chain and are better in cutting CO2 output."
Cellulosic ethanol fuels environmental concerns In recent months, high fuel prices and national security concerns have sparked interest in biofuels. Cellulosic ethanol, which can be derived from virtually any plant matter including farm waste, looks particularly promising. The U.S. Department of Energy projects that cellulosic conversion technology could reduce the cost of producing ethanol by as much as 60 cents per gallon by 2015. Green groups see cellulosic ethanol as a carbon neutral energy source that could be used to fight the build up of atmospheric carbon dioxide responsible for global warming.
High oil prices fuel bioenergy push High oil prices and growing concerns over climate change are driving investment and innovation in the biofuels sector as countries and industry increasingly look towards renewable bioenergy to replace fossil fuels. Bill Gates, the world's richest man, has recently invested $84 million in an American ethanol company, while global energy gluttons ranging from the United States to China are setting long-term targets for the switch to such fuels potentially offering a secure domestic source of renewable energy and fewer environmental headaches.
Why is oil palm replacing tropical rainforests? Recently much has been made about the conversion of Asia's biodiverse rainforests for oil-palm cultivation. Environmental organizations have warned that by eating foods that use palm oil as an ingredient, Western consumers are directly fueling the destruction of orangutan habitat and sensitive ecosystems. So, why is it that oil-palm plantations now cover millions of hectares across Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand? Why has oil palm become the world's number one fruit crop, trouncing its nearest competitor, the humble banana? The answer lies in the crop's unparalleled productivity. Simply put, oil palm is the most productive oil seed in the world. A single hectare of oil palm may yield 5,000 kilograms of crude oil, or nearly 6,000 liters of crude according to data from JourneytoForever. For comparison, soybeans and corn—crops often heralded as top biofuel sources—generate only 446 and 172 liters per hectare, respectively.
Europe's rush to oil palm and soya biomass as source of renewable energy misguided and unsustainable Dr. Glenn Barry, the activist behind Forests.org and ClimateArk, sent out an Action Alert calling for the European Commission to reject a plan to use biofuels that contribute to rainforest destruction, notably palm oil and soybean oil. His message, displayed below, asks for readers to send an email message to the Director General of Energy and Transport for the European Commission.
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