Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Are biofuels the answer to all our fuel problems?

There is government and EU pressure to increase the use of biofuels both in the UK and throughout Europe. In the USA the government is promoting the development of biofuels as the answer to their fuel problems. Over here in the UK, BP and ABF have joined forces with DuPont to build a biofuels plant at BP’s chemicals site at Saltend near Hull. The £200 million biofuels plant will help to meet the demand for greener petrol for the foreseeable future. Due to start production in 2009, the plant will produce around 420 million litres of bioethanol a year. This plant alone is expected to meet around a third of the county’s demand for bioethanol. Under the government’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, at 5% of fuel sold at petrol stations by 2010 will be biofuels, so the future in biofuels is pretty much assured. There is money to be made in biofuels, so investment can only increase. Which is a good thing, right?

Well, possibly yes and probably no. The problem with biofuels, is that they are made from staples like corn, wheat, palm oil and soya oil. As demand for these grows in the developed world, prices could go up, and make them less affordable to communities in third world countries that rely on these for food. Will we end up creating more starving people in the third world as we in the West buy up wheat and corn for our biofuels? The environment could suffer too, as vast areas of rainforest are burned or logged to make room for biofuel crops. Will we destroy the rainforests that reduce CO2 in the atmosphere to make ‘greener’ petrol? The biofuels market has to be regulated and monitored effectively if the benefits in CO2 reduction aren’t overshadowed by the damage to the environment and to the poorer communities around the world.

[Via The Independent]

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