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What’s wrong with biofuel

What’s wrong with biofuel?

Biofuel is the name given to oil derived from plants that are already being used in our transport fuels and are now being subsidised by our government to burn in power stations for electricity.  By the end of the year new government subsidies could also be in place to use biofuels to heat our homes.

The name Biofuel suggests something green, something good for you, but the truth is biofuels are far from green and are having a devastating effect on the environment, driving the destruction of pristine forests while also pushing farmers off their land. As biofuels compete directly with food crops for limited land space, we’re now seeing millions more people facing hunger.  These negative impacts continue to be ignored by the EU and the UK government.

Yet, however strongly you feel about the damage caused by biofuels, you and I have been made an unwitting party to these crimes because biofuel is already pre-mixed into all petrol and diesel sold in the UK.  Many bus and train engines also use it.  Soon, each time you turn on a light or surf the web, you’ll also be using a bit of biofuel as government subsidies are going to companies like W4B to operate biofuel power stations.

W4B won planning permission on the basis that they would be using palm oil as their primary fuel source. If this turns out to be the case, they will burn 35,000 tonnes of palm oil every year, which translates to an area of tropical deforestation for oil palm plantations equivalent to half the size of Dorset! Yet this wouldn’t even provide enough energy for one in twenty Dorset homes

So why are W4B doing this? Simply put, they will receive over £12 million every year as a government handout (guaranteed until 2030) on top of the profits it makes from selling the electricity it produces.  And where will that money come from?  From you and me of course, through additional levy to our energy bills for fake ‘green’ energy

As well as oils like palm there are other plants, such as jatropha, which W4B and the rest of the biofuels industry are seeking to use. They claim that these plants, which produce an inedible oil, can be grown on so-called “marginal” land, that is neither virgin habitat nor in full cultivation.  But ‘marginal land’ is often intentionally lightly used.  Local people use it for a myriad of resources – pasture land, fire wood, medicinal plants, nut and berry gathering etc.  Also because it is not intensively cultivated, the natural habitat is also largely intact.  This contributes to wildlife protection and even supports a stable local climate as humidity is retained.

Increasingly jatropha is also being grown on fertile agricultural land in order to achieve industrial volumes of oil.  This directly competes with food production.  It also means that in a food crisis, because it is poisonous, the crop cannot even be sold into the food market! Action Aid recently issued a report called Meals Per Gallon, which revealed that people in India and parts of Africa where jatropha plantations are being established are already being adversely affected, deprived of land they need to feed themselves and their families. The jatopha industry claims to be providing work for local people but, as with palm oil, this is often forced labour. When all other means of survival and self-determination have been taken away by the companies growing these biofuels, then there is little choice but to work for them, usually 10 hour days for subsistence wages

All this destruction and degradation is set to get a lot worse if the UK and EU governments are allowed to continue subsidising biofuels in transport and electricity generation.  Currently biofuels are mixed in petrol and diesel at 3.25 %.  Subsidies are offered for palm oil, sunflower and even animal fat snd the EU are looking to increase the amount of the biofuel in our fuel mix, to a compulsory 10% by 2020.

We need to ensure that biofuels are not seen as a viable solution to climate change or diminishing fossil fuels. We need to make sure that they are not given subsidies and that instead we put our money and efforts into truly green, clean sustainable energy such as wind, solar and tidal. We also need to recognise that in order to meet our future energy needs without trashing the planet and taking food out of the mouths of the world’s most vulnerable people, we need to be much smarter about how we use energy and fuel, reducing our overall energy consumption, using more public transport and creating a sustainable low-carbon economy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 10, 2010 7:53 pm

    More about the issues with biofuel from Jatropha in this report:

    page 66 of the UNEP report on “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production”:

    Jatropha biodiesel has the highest water consumption per litre of fuel produced of all 13 biofuel crops the report looked at.

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