Biofuel target abandoned as doubts grow about benefits
Up until when I purchased and read some books about food production I was very much in favour of biofuels. I had never considered any of the associated problems such as the claim that production in now resulting in increased prices for food in the poorer regions of the world.
Despite my growing doubts about biofuels I was surprised to read in the Irish times that the Irish Government had decided not to continue their support for the production of biofuels. To be honest, I suspect that the reasons given are not why they made their decision so the withdrawing of support for the industry does not help me to decided if the production of biofuel is going to have a negative or a positive impact.
At this stage I have not decided one way or the other about biofuels so I invite your comments.
The decision to drop the ambitious biofuels targets - which were set as recently as 15 months ago by Mr Ryan's predecessor Noel Dempsey - follows growing doubts about the benefits of biofuels.
They have been blamed for steep rises in global food prices as well as for exacerbating climate change rather than combating it.
In an interview with The Irish Times , Mr Ryan said he has urged a moderation of the policy at European ministerial level.
ST. LOUIS: The argument over using crops to make biofuels is about to get a little louder, courtesy of a new group formed by some of the biggest agribusiness companies in the world.
The new group — formed by Monsanto Co., Archer Daniels Midland, Deere & Co. and DuPont Co. — announced Thursday it will use national advertisements and lobbyists on Capitol Hill to build the case that new technologies can make it feasible to produce crop-based fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, even as grain prices climb worldwide.
Just a niche market three years ago, the biofuels industry has blossomed because of federal mandates requiring the United States to use 9 billion gallons (34 billion liters) of alternative fuel annually by 2009.
The mandates are under attack from a wide variety of groups that blame the new industry for rising food prices that have sparked riots and hoarding everywhere from Haiti to southeast Asia.
Organizers of the newly formed Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy said Thursday they want to change the debate about biofuels. Their plan is to convince consumers and politicians that both goals can be met at once by increasing agricultural productivity.
Are biofuels climate-friendly?
In principle, biofuels are a way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional transport fuels.
Burning the fuels releases carbon dioxide; but growing the plants absorbs a comparable amount of the gas from the atmosphere.
However, energy is used in farming and processing the crops, and this can make biofuels as polluting as petroleum-based fuels, depending on what is grown and how it is treated.
A recent UK government publication declared that biofuels reduced emissions "by 50-60% compared to fossil fuels".
What are the downsides?
From the environmental point of the view, the big issue is biodiversity.
With much of the western world's farmland already consisting of identikit fields of monocultured crops, the fear is that a major adoption of biofuels will reduce habitat for animals and wild plants still further.
Asian countries may be tempted to replace rainforest with more palm oil plantations, critics say.
If increased proportions of food crops such as corn or soy are used for fuel, that may push prices up, affecting food supplies for less prosperous citizens.
The mixed picture regarding the climate benefit of biofuels leads some observers to say that the priority should be reducing energy use; initiatives on biofuels detract attention from this, they say, and are more of a financial help to politically important farming lobbies than a serious attempt to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
There are few problems technically; engines can generally cope with the new fuels.
But current technologies limit production, because only certain parts of specific plants can be used.
The big hope is the so-called second-generation of biofuels, which will process the cellulose found in many plants. This should lead to far more efficient production using a much greater range of plants and plant waste.
Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these “green” fuels are taken into account, two studies being published Thursday have concluded.
The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published in the prestigious journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy.
These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuels development.