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Apr 5, 2008

Biofuels, - Stuffing up Big time.

A long time ago when I first heard of the idea of biofuels I thought it was an interesting idea and possibly a good one if economically viable. It probably still is, but only if governments and their autocratic agencies get to hell out of it and allow it to develop naturally, and probably become a feasible alternative if or when technology improves, and a genuine acceptance develops from consumers.

Responding to their need for green and global warming votes however governments across the world are using legislation to force it on the communities under their control, either with mandated usage or by subsidizing its production.

We are now seeing what is the beginning of massive social and economic disruption caused by this, as seen below.

Biofuel boom threatens food supplies

GROWING use of such crops as wheat and corn to make biofuels is putting world food supplies in peril, the head of Nestle, the world's biggest food and beverage company, warned today.

"If as predicted we look to use biofuels to satisfy 20 per cent of the growing demand for oil products, there will be nothing left to eat," chairman and chief executive Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said.

"To grant enormous subsidies for biofuel production is morally unacceptable and irresponsible," he told the Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag.

While the competition is driving up the price of maize, soya and wheat, land for cultivation is becoming rare and water sources are also under threat, Mr. Brabeck said.

OK it can be argued that this guy has a vested interest in keeping the prices of his company’s raw materials down. This may not necessarily be the case, it can also be inferred that he is a person in a position to know, and is genuinely concerned.

If this was all then perhaps we could afford to ignore it as simply one opinion or perhaps conjecture, but its not. We also have this story from Andrew Charlesworth, at “BusinessGreen”

EU biofuel targets attacked

The UK government's chief scientific adviser has joined green lobby groups in asking for ethanol fuel targets to be reconsidered.

Alarm about the potential environmental harm caused by mass-producing biofuels such as ethanol has reached a new height with the UK Government's own scientific adviser warning of the possible dangers.

Consequently, company executives should not rely on increased use of biofuels in vehicle fleets to reduce emissions, say environmental groups.

"The status of biofuels is debatable currently," said a spokesperson for Greenpeace, "We urge businesses to make vehicle fleets more green by buying more efficient vehicles, making more efficient use of vehicles - for example by rescheduling deliveries, and reducing journeys by using tele-conferencing."

Yesterday, Professor Robert Watson, chief scientific adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), joined the growing clamor of voices urging the government to delay the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation (RTFO), a European Union ruling that demands fuel companies in all member states add 2.5 per cent biofuels to petrol and diesel as of 15 April this year.

The EU ruling further calls for petrol and diesel to comprise five per cent biofuel by 2010, with proposed extensions to 10 per cent by 2020.

"Given the evidence that already exists, we believe that the introduction of biofuels targets will, in the absence of … a clear understanding of the indirect impacts of large-scale production of biofuels, have a devastating impact on vulnerable people's livelihoods, the climate and biodiversity," says the letter.

The environmental groups list various negative impacts of biofuel production, including: increased food prices as agricultural effort and land is diverted from food production to growing crops for biofuel; increased use of fossil-based fertilizers to grow biomass; release of carbon into the atmosphere by the ploughing of virgin land; and destruction of carbon-sink forest and wildlife habitat to make way for fuel farming.

Furthermore, a recent report in The Economist highlighted the huge freshwater consumption of ethanol plants at a time when global fresh water reserves are under increasing pressure. According to the report a typical plant producing 50 million gallons of ethanol a year requires 500 gallons of water every minute.

The worst is probably this one from the same source, but by James Murray, and Andrew Charlesworth.

Report calls for crackdown on carbon intensive biofuels

Almost all biofuels result in more carbon emissions than the fossil fuels they are intended to replace, according to the latest study to raise grave concerns over the environmental impact of booming demand for fuels made from plants.

The research from the University of Minnesota and the Nature Conservancy which was published in the journal Science yesterday, assessed the full carbon impact from biofuels, including emissions associated with the clearance of land to make way for fuel crops. It found that where land is converted to fuel plantations the biofuels release between 17 and 420 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels.

Concerns over the carbon impact of rainforest clearance in Indonesia prompted by booming demand for biofuels are already well established, but the report argues that converting savannas and grasslands leads to a similar net increase in carbon emissions.

EU legislators recently sought to appease critics of its target for 10 per cent of transport fuels to come from biofuels by 2020, pledging to develop a certification scheme to ensure only biofuels that meet strict sustainability standards are imported into the EU.

But the report raises serious questions about the feasibility of such proposals. Joe Fargione, a scientist for The Nature Conservancy and co-author of the report, insisted that the impact on crop prices of biofuel demand meant that "all the biofuels we use now cause habitat destruction, either directly or indirectly".

For example, as prices for palm oil climb as a result of biofuel demand more farmers switch their crops to biofuel to tap into the opportunity for increased profits. Such palm oil from established plantations would meet sustainability criteria, but the knock on impact is that fresh land has to be cleared to make way for the food crops that the farmers are no longer growing.

Similarly, the researchers argue that increased demand for ethanol corn crops in the US has prompted many farmers to stop growing soybeans. Brazilian farmers have moved to meet the demand for soybeans no longer being met by US farmers, but there is growing evidence they are clearing savannas and rainforests to do so.

The report noted that some forms of cellulose biofuels that use waste agricultural material or native grasses do not lead to increased carbon emissions as they have no impact on natural habitats. "Biofuels made on perennial crops grown on degraded land that is no longer useful for growing food crops may actually help us fight global warming," said Hill. "One example is ethanol made from diverse mixtures of native prairie plants."

A raft of biofuel firms are currently racing to develop a commercially viable technique for refining such cellulose biofuels, but currently such fuels make up a fraction of global supply and some experts warn it could take years to make second generation biofuels cost competitive.

We need the state to stop this nonsense now, and get right out of this area before the effects become impossible to reverse. At this point few cars and other fuel using devices are specifically designed to accommodate biofuel, but a few years down the track a substantial proportion of the cars etc will be designed to require it and any attempt to reverse this tide will be almost impossible.

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