Wednesday, 7 February 2007

EU's Dirty Laundry on Palm based biodiesel

Alternative energy blog had a good summary of Palm oil based bio-diesel, its downsides and how EU is linked to all of it. In short:
  • Palm Oil is one of the world's biggest causes of (rainforest) deforestation
  • Planting oil palms industrial style is linked to severe soil depletion, requiring heavy use of oil based fertilizers to balance the soil
  • Palm oil plantations are sometimes cleared on peatland, which is drained/burned, thus releasing bound CO2
  • In land use, palm oil production sometimes competes with food production, in areas already limited in food availability
  • It raises the price of palm oil for other purposes, creating even more incentive to grow it
  • All of the above increases global warming and hikes up the price of food for the poor
  • European countries are increasing their use of palm oil based bio-diesel, including NL, UK, FIN, GER, DK, SWE, AT, FR & CH. Furthermore EU is subsidizing it's production in Southeast Asia through tax exemptions
To be fair, palm oil is currently deemed as one of the least evil options for bio-diesel, but using current practices, artificially cheap pricing and with no working certification scheme it looks to be a seriously unsustainable bio-fuel.

All this of course poses the question: if not palm oil based bio-diesel, then what?

That's the million euro question, of course.

There are no proven sustainable methods for bio-fuel production that scale well, have a system EROI of 10 or more, are carbon neutral and don't compete directly with food production and livelihood of people in the developing countries, who actually end up producing the biofuel. Brazil's sugarcane based bio-ethanol production is most often touted as the sustainable solution, but even it is not without its issues.