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08.07.2007 » Pressrelease » Bio Energy
Biofuel’s Chickens Come Home To Roost
According to Stavros Dimas, Member of the European Commission responsible for environment, who was speaking at the International Biofuels Conference in Brussels, Europe will have to closely monitor the downside of biofuels.
He pointed out that he regarded ‘biofuels’ is an umbrella term used to describe all fuels derived from organic matters and that these fuels have very different characteristics and could put pressures on the environment and on society. One example he pointed to is the use of energy both to grow corn and to convert it into biofuels. “Cultivating a crop demands large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides, which have in themselves environmental and energy costs.” Dimas explained.
“Some biofuels are also very expensive.” Dimas said, adding. “With the price of oil at 56 dollars, the production of a litre of petrol has a price of an average of 30 euro cents. In order to produce a litre of ethanol with the same energy power 37 cents are needed in Brazil, 45 in the United States and 75 in Europe. It is therefore clear that biofuels produced in this way could be economically viable and sustainable only if subsidies are provided.”
“A staggering problem is the space that the production of feedstock for biofuels will require. A study of the Worldwatch Institute published in June 2006 indicates that, if we consider the most common biofuels widely available today, Brazil will need only 3% of its agricultural land to produce 10% of its entire fuel consumption. However, for the same quantity, the United States would need 30% of its agricultural land and the European Union 72%.”
But it was the impact on the price of food that Dimas was most concerned about pointing to problems in Mexico where there has been a steep increase in the price of tortillas, the main source of calories for 50 million Mexicans that live in poverty. “The same problem will have to be confronted by other developing countries already facing hunger.” Said Dimas.
He went on to say. “Even in the United States, the growth of the biofuel industry has triggered increases not only in the prices of corn, oilseeds and other grains, but also in the prices of seemingly unrelated crops and products. Food processors that use crops such as peas and sweet corn have been forced to pay higher prices to keep their supply secure.”
According to Dimas it is not only vegetarians who will suffer. “Such an increase of costs has already been passed on to the consumers. Poultry is for example more expensive because of the higher price of corn.”
Dimas however was not all doom and gloom, saying he realised that the technology for the production of bio-fuels is still in its infancy and that scientists were working on ways in making bio-fuels from non-food crops and waste bio-mass without putting additional pressures on the environment and on social development.
One example he drew attention to was the production ethanol from the conversion of cellulose-rich organic matter.
“Second generation biofuels made from non-food sources could offer higher CO2 savings in relation to both conventional fuels and first generation biofuels.” Dimas claimed. “This would also assure an optimal use of the agricultural potential in the European Union.”