Biofuels are a clean, alternative energy that many are hoping will become the next source of liquid fuels for internal combustion engines; a clean substitute for polluting fossil fuels. The US is a huge supporter of biofuels, last year producing 1 billion gallons, and the EU has also stated its intentions for 10% of all transport fuel to be biofuel by 2020.
Wait a minute though, new data obtained from a leak by the European Commission provides evidence that not all biofuels are clean. In fact some are more polluting than fossil fuels.
The EU proposed a default value of 107g CO2 equivalent per megajoule of fuel (CO2/mj) for oil from tar sands, as compared to 87.5g CO2/mj for crude oil. Following is a list of the equivalent values for biofuels:
• Palm Oil - 105g
• Soybean – 103g
• Rapeseed – 95g
• Sunflower – 86g
• Palm Oil with methane capture – 83g
• Wheat (process fuel not specified) – 64g
• Wheat (as process fuel natural gas used in CHP) – 47g
• Corn (Maize) – 43g
• Sugar Cane – 36g
• Sugar Beet – 34g
• Wheat (straw as process fuel in CHP plants) – 35g
• 2G Ethanol (land-using) – 32g
• 2G Biodiesel (land-using) – 21g
• 2G Ethanol (non-land using) – 9g
• 2G Biodiesel (non-land using) – 9g
It is obvious that for a biofuel to be useful in cutting the emissions driving global warming it needs to have a smaller carbon footprint than regular fuel from crude oil. However calculating the carbon emissions of a biofuel must also include the natural forests and wetlands that are destroyed in the construction of plantations to grow the crops. Taking this into account it is immediately clear that palm oil and soy beans are unsupportable as sources of biofuel. Wheat, maize and sugar do little better than crude oil and are therefore not likely to solve our climate issues either. Second generation (2G), non-land using fuels are obviously the best. These include the waste-to-energy fuel sources, a sector that is steadily growing as more and more plants are constructed.
Robbie Blake, biofuels campaigner, at Friends of the Earth Europe, said, "It's getting quite indisputable that the use of soy or palm oil to fuel our cars is even dirtier than conventional fossil fuels. Forests in Asia and South America are being destroyed by the expansion of plantations to meet the European market. It's a delusion for politicians to think that biodiesel will solve climate change."
Biofuels remain vital to tackling climate change, but the difficulty now exists in identifying what constitutes a good biofuel. These figures help us to immediately recognise the best and worse, but they don’t give us any idea as to the cost of production. It is all well and good saying we should use 2G non-land using biofuels, but would we be willing to pay the higher price at the pumps? Perhaps the answer will be in the development of biofuels from algae and seaweed.
By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com
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