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Guidelines to ensure biofuels production won’t hurt the environment

Guidelines to ensure biofuels production won’t hurt the environment

Guidelines to ensure biofuels production won’t hurt the environment
August 30, 2007

Environmentalists have long seen biofuels as a means to improve the sustainability of transportation and energy use since they are a renewable source of energy that can be replenished on an ongoing basis. Further, because biofuels are generally derived from plants, which absorb carbon from the atmosphere as they grow, biofuel production offers the potential to help offset carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate climate change. Nonetheless, in recent years, there has been considerable backlash against biofuels, which are increasingly viewed as a threat to the environment. Green groups now point to large-scale land conversion for energy crops, higher food prices, and a spate of studies that suggest net emissions from corn ethanol are little better than those from fossil fuels, to caution that biofuels can cause more problems than they address.

World biodiesel and ethanol production, 1980-2003, based on data from the International Energy Agency (IEA). Graphic by Rhett A. Butler

To address these concerns, the Energy Center of the EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lausanne) has launched the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, a multi-stakeholder initiative, which aims to establish social and environmental sustainability standards. By mid 2008, the group hopes to develop draft standards in conjunction with non-governmental organizations, companies, governments and inter-governmental groups from all over the world. The roundtable seeks to “create a tool that consumers, policy-makers, companies, banks, and other actors can use to ensure that biofuels deliver on their promise of sustainability.”

“Many people are worried about biofuels contributing to deforestation and air pollution in the name of protecting the planet,” said Claude Martin, former Director-General of WWF International and Chair of the Roundtable’s Steering Board. “Companies and farmers want global rules that they can follow. The Roundtable will bring together all of these actors to start writing these rules together, to ensure that biofuels deliver on their promise of sustainability.”

Price per unit of potential energy, dollars per million Btu. Corn price includes subsidies.

After a thorough interactive consultation of its members, the working group on environment is currently working on a new set of draft principles:

These principles can be consulted and commented at

“Our hope is that in an academic setting, companies, governments, and civil organizations will be able to come to consensus on how to ensure biofuels are produced sustainably,” said Dr. Patrick Aebischer, President of the EPFL.

For more information and registration to the working groups, please visit the official RSB webpage.

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