Put the brakes on biofuels

19 December 2012

Put the brakes on biofuels

It’s time to call a halt to the practice of mixing fuels from biomass sources into motor fuels. So said SP Member of Parliament Henk van Gerven during Tuesday afternoon’s debate with Secretary of State for the Environment Wilma Mansveld. The anticipated leap forward to a new generation of biofuels has never materialised, which means that large amounts of food crop plant materials must still be employed. ‘Producing biofuels without making use of food crop plants hasn’t been a success,’ says Van Gerven, ‘so we should simply be taking a step back. The SP would sooner see mouths filled than petrol tanks.’

Henk van GervenBrussels has produced a proposal for a compulsory minimum 10% admixture of biofuels in motor fuels for road vehicles. Up to half of this may consist of what are known as ‘first generation’ biofuels, made from food crop plants. ‘The SP has always supported proposals for adding biofuels with the proviso that the biomass employed must not be at the cost of food.’

Around 1000 billion litres of motor fuel is consumed globally by road transport vehicles every year. 10% would mean that 100 billion litres of biofuel would be needed annually, which is why the lobby of oil industry interests is so strong. There’s a great deal of money to be made. This will be at the expense of agricultural land. From a single hectare of sugar beet, for instance, you can get some 7,500 litres of biofuel. ‘So to run all the world’s cars for a year you need an area thirty-five times the size of the Netherlands. That’s unreal.’

It would be more intelligent to use costly biomass where it is most valuable. This is what is done in waste processing, where Lansink’s Ladder is used to ensure that the most environmentally friendly or least environmentally damaging method of processing or disposing of waste is employed. In the case of biomass just such a framework must be created, with food and food production at the top, then uses in building and industry and only if there is really nothing else than can be done with it should it be used for biofuel. Such a ladder, Van Gerven believes, would look like this:

  1. Food
  2. Feed
  3. Fertiliser
  4. Green building materials
  5. Fuel

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