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Biofuels in Europe Face Long Road Ahead to Sustainability

Biofuels in Europe are struggling to meet the most basic thresholds for sustainability, according to the Times of London, which claims to have seen a government study that shows fossil fuels are better for the environment than “green fuels” made from crops.

The findings show that the United Kingdom’s biofuels mandate would result in millions of acres of forest being logged or burnt down and converted to plantations.

The study finds that some of the most basic crops used to make biofuels fail to meet the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission.

Less strict than the U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standard2 (in most cases), the standard calls for biofuels to reduce emissions by at least 35 percent compared with its fossil fuel equivalent.  The study shows that palm oil increases emissions by 31 percent due to clearing of forests and grassland for plantations.

A leaked internal memo from the European Commission, which has proposed to declare palm plantations sustainable if they come from “continuously forested area,” suggests that governments are aiming to ramp up biofuels production seemingly at any cost.

According to the article, last year, 127 million liters of palm oil was added to diesel sold to motorists in the United Kingdom, including 64 million liters from Malaysia and 27 million liters from Indonesia.

The expansion of the palm industry in Indonesia has turned it into the third-largest CO2 emitter in the world, after China and the United States.

Mackinnon Lawrence is an attorney, principal consultant with Biomass Advisors, and editor & publisher of Biomass Intel. Article appearing courtesy Biomass Intel.

photo: raysto

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4 comments on “Biofuels in Europe Face Long Road Ahead to Sustainability

I don’t think biofuels can be sustainable. Indeed sustainability supposes being good for the environment, the society and the economy. And biofuels aren’t good for society as a whole.

Indeed, the production of biofuels in the United States and the European Union could feed nearly half a billion people. As a billion people are still starving around the world I don’t think biofuels should be part of the solution.

Furthermore, according to a recent study biofuels production in Brazil could lead to increased greenhouse gases emissions. (see above for more).

Alternatives to oil and biofuels exist and are aplenty : electric vehicles (cars and bikes alike), carsharing, carpooling, biking and public transportation solutions. So let’s work on these !

What about other feedstocks – waste materials, crop residues, short-rotation woody biomass?


No official word yet re EU legislation covering biofuels and fuel quality, but an analysis is available here:

Lawrence Weisdorn

There are many technologies that can use wood waste, yard trimmings, MSW and convert to hydrogen. Why go to biofuels if you can have zero emission hydrogen?

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