The European Union bans certain biofuel sources in draft law

Concluding that some biofuels are worse for the environment than traditional fuels, the EU has listed acceptable and unacceptable biofuels based on how they are made or what the are made from.

As reported by Jeremy Elton Jacquot of Los Angeles:

Amidst renewed fears over the impact of biofuels on the environment, which a recent Royal Society report warned could “do more harm than good,” the European Union has issued a draft law that would propose a ban on the imports of biofuels derived from crops grown on certain types of land — such as forests, wetlands and grasslands. It would also require them to deliver a — as yet undetermined — “minimum level of greenhouse gas savings.”

Palm oil is cited by many as a particularly insidious source of biofuel because of the unaccpetable environmental and societal costs it incurs.

The ban would particularly target environmentally harmful crops like palm oil, which Europe imports from Southeast Asia; it could also affect a few crops grown in Latin America, including soy, wheat and sugar beets. The decision to enforce a ban comes in the wake of a rash of studies that have downplayed or thoroughly discredited some of the more bullish claims made by biofuel producers.

We simply can’t embrace concepts that people claim are green, we have to be sure of the details in each case. The EU has made an important advance by using available reports like the Royal Society’s document to sort and judge the different sources of biofuels.

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© James K. Bashkin, 2008

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  1. Johhny

    but arent these fuels renewable? also, when grown (sugar, palm etc) the plants create O2 (oxygen) out of the (supposedly deadly plant-air) CO2 (carbon dioxide).

    so they reduce co2 and are renewable. also, the countries are autonomous (self governing) so we just shouldnt buy and use it, if they are so dangerous to the environment.

    also, is “the royal society” trustworthy?

    what does the author think about GMO foods? i heard EU forced to poland to accept GMO, even though they banned it themselves.

    shouldnt poland be allowed to decide this for themselves? well, not in the EU. (wich is a trade organisation with political power)

  2. Johhny: Thanks for the comments and for reading the article. Your questions are good ones. The answers are long, so I’ll just give the beginning of an answer here now and will respond with more ASAP.

    All plants are renewable in one way or another, and yes, all green plants produce oxygen and use up CO2. The issues about some biofuels being a net drain on the environment vs. others that may not stress the environment as much have to do with:

    how much energy it takes to renew them,

    how much rain forest (or wetlands) must be destroyed to grow them,

    how much repression of people living in, say, the Amazon must go on so that huge farms can take over more land,

    how much fertilizer and pesticides must be used to grow the plants used as raw materials for biofuels,

    what percent of the plant matter is really used for fuel,

    how much fresh water gets polluted by runoff of fertilizer and pesticides,

    how much fresh water gets used to make a biofuel from a given source,

    how much energy is gained by burning the biofuel vs. the energy used to grow/harvest/process/transport that fuel, and

    what other pollutants might a biofuel contain (lots of nitrogen to make NOx smog in some cases).

    In the end, we still generate CO2 by burining the biofuel, and if we destroy rainforests and other important green plants and algae faster than we grow them, we are losing the CO2 battle

    in many cases, huge amounts of CO2 are being released into the atmosphere by draining peat bogs to prepare parts of Malaysia and surrounding areas for biofuel factory farms (see the article in this blog on peat bogs)

    And, finally (for the moment), yes, the Royal Society can be trusted.

    More later, and thanks again for your thoughtful questions.


  3. I understand and agree with Jim’s concern about the biofuels. However, I do not plan to spend any of my time and resource fighting the biofuel industry. The fossil fuel industry has the money and willing to do that for me.

    My primary effort for now is fighting the fossil fuel industry.

  4. Steven: take a look at this article by the New Scientist.

    In many cases, biofuel companies are oil companies, or similar large multinational corporations, and they are causing extensive damage while pretending to help.

    In times of change and turbulence, it can be very easy for opportunistic people and companies to take advantage of the situation. I say we cannot be for “bad environmentalism” for many reasons: the bad effects themselves and the way poor eco-practices weaken our credibility. Our solutions have to make sense or they aren’t solutions. That doesn’t mean “everyone has to fight every battle”- I just don’t want to see good work and hard work undone.

  5. It seems to me that there is no good alternatives to the fossil fuels. Where is our hope?

  6. Steven: I certainly maintain that there are some decent biofuels, and that they should be used. As to how muc volume we can expect from these sources, I’m not sure. I think we have to be positive, but cautious, in embracing new ideas put before us, because they aren’t all as good as they might seem, initially.

    Sam Carana has written a lot about the hydrogen economy and electric cars. He may be right that this is the best way to go (I don’t think he is wrong, I’m just not sure how fast we can move things in that direction).

    I suggest you read the comments at the following link, and also follow up by reading some of the other links mentioned:

    There is definitely plenty of hope. We just need to re-assess things every now and then and make some course corrections based on what we have learned!

    Best wishes, Jim

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