The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation requires that by 2020 the amount of biofuel added to diesel be increased to 13 per cent, but once ILUC is taken into account the entire EU biofuel policy is questionable. The EU spends £3billion each year on subsidising biofuel production.
A spokesperson for the Environmental Transport Association (ETA) said: “The European Commission cannot simply gloss over the effect of ILUC – if biofuel is to be used it must be environmentally robust.”
“Tax the producers of carbon dioxide and other climate change gases, and changes will occur faster than if government tries to second guess future technologies and personal taste. Biofuel could be a false dawn but in a future guise it could be great – just tax what we know to be bad and the good will flow from the results.”
Is all biofuel bad for the environment?
A distinction must be drawn between first-generation biofuels, which use food crops such as corn, rapeseed, palm and soya, and the currently experimental second-generation fuels based on fibrous non-food plants which could be grown without displacing other crops and raising food prices.
It is possible to turn used cooking oil into environmentally-friendly biofuel that can be used in many diesel-engined vehicles. The ‘FuelPod 2’ is the size of a small fridge and is capable of producing up to 50 litres of biodiesel every day. Its fuel dispensing system lets you pump the finished fuel straight into your car.
Green fuels cause more harm than fossil fuels, according to report By Ben Webster, Environment Editor
Using fossil fuel in vehicles is better for the environment than so-called green fuels made from crops, according to a government study seen by The Times.
The findings show that the Department for Transport’s target for raising the level of biofuel in all fuel sold in Britain will result in millions of acres of forest being logged or burnt down and converted to plantations. The study, likely to force a review of the target, concludes that some of the most commonly-used biofuel crops fail to meet the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission.
Under the standard, each litre of biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with burning a litre of fossil fuel. Yet the study shows that palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of the carbon released when forest and grassland is turned into plantations. Rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.
The Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation this year requires 3¼ per cent of all fuel sold to come from crops. The proportion is due to increase each year and by 2020 is required to be 13 per cent. The DfT commissioned E4tech, a consultancy, to investigate the overall impact of its biofuel target on forests and other undeveloped land.
The EC has conducted its own research, but is refusing to publish the results. A leaked internal memo from the EC’s agriculture directorate reveals its concern that Europe’s entire biofuels industry, which receives almost £3 billion a year in subsidies, would be jeopardised if indirect changes in land use were included in sustainability standards. A senior official added to the memo in handwriting: “An unguided use of ILUC [indirect land use change] would kill biofuels in the EU.”
The EC hopes to protect its biofuel target by issuing revised standards that would give palm plantations the same status as natural forests. Officials appear to have accepted arguments put forward by the palm oil industry that palms are just another type of tree.
A draft of the new rules, obtained by The Times, states that palm oil should be declared sustainable if it comes from a “continuously forested area”, which it defines as areas where trees can reach at least heights of 5m, making up crown cover of more than 30 per cent. “This means, for example, that a change from forest to oil palm plantation would not per se constitute a breach of the criterion,” it adds.
Clearing rainforest for biofuel plantations releases carbon stored in trees and soil. It takes up to 840 years for a palm oil plantation to soak up the carbon emitted when the rainforest it replaced was burnt. The expansion of the palm oil industry in Indonesia has turned it into the third-largest CO2 emitter, after China and the US. Indonesia loses an area of forest the size of Wales every year and the orang-utan is on the brink of extinction in Sumatra.
Last year, 127 million litres of palm oil was added to diesel sold to motorists in Britain, including 64 million litres from Malaysia and 27 million litres from Indonesia. Kenneth Richter, biofuels campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: “The billions of subsidy for biofuels would be better spent on greener cars and improved public transport.”
Using biofuel in cars ‘may accelerate loss of rainforest’
Using biofuel in vehicles may be accelerating the destruction of rainforest and resulting in higher greenhouse gas emissions than burning pure petrol and diesel, a watchdog said yesterday.
The Renewable Fuels Agency also warned that pump prices could rise in April because of the Government’s policy of requiring fuel companies to add biofuel to petrol and diesel. More than 1.3 million hectares of land — twice the area of Devon — was used to grow the 2.7 per cent of Britain’s transport fuel that came from crops last year.
Under the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation, a growing proportion of biofuel must be added to diesel and petrol. This year fuel must be at least 3.25 per cent biofuel on average. By 2020 the proportion will be 13 per cent.
The agency’s first annual report revealed that fuel companies had exploited a loophole to avoid reporting the origin of almost half the biofuel they supplied to filling stations last year. The origin of fuel from land recently cleared can be described as “unknown”. Last year Esso reported the source of only 6 per cent of its biofuel and BP reported 27 per cent. Shell was the best-performing of the main oil companies but still failed to report the origin of a third of its biofuel.
The agency said: “The large proportion of unknown previous land use is of concern. If even a small proportion of this was carbon-rich grassland or forestland, it could have substantially reduced the carbon savings resulting from the renewable transport fuels obligation as a whole, or even resulted in a net release of carbon.”
Most companies met part of their biofuel obligation by buying palm oil, one of the cheapest fuels but potentially the most damaging to the environment because of the carbon released when forest is burnt down to create plantations.
Expansion of the industry has made Indonesia the third-largest CO2 emitter after China and the US. A litre of palm oil produced on land converted from Indonesian forest produces roughly three times as much CO2 as ordinary diesel.
The agency said oil companies had failed to invest in slightly more expensive certified sustainable palm oil. Only 0.5 per cent of the 127 million litres of palm oil added to petrol and diesel last year came from plantations certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international monitoring body.
Chevron, Murco, Topaz and Grangemouth refinery had “failed to demonstrate the sustainability of their biofuels”, the report said. ConocoPhillips was the only big oil company to meet the three voluntary targets the Government set the industry: for 30 per cent of the biofuel to meet a minimum environmental standard, for it to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent compared with fossil fuel and for the source of at least half the biofuel to be reported.
The agency said the end of the 20p a litre fuel duty discount for biofuel from April could cause prices to rise, though probably only by less than 1p per litre.
From March 2011 companies will be required under a European directive to report the previous use of all the land from which they derive their biofuels. However, they will also gain an additional loophole because they will not have to admit using rainforest land if the trees were removed before 2008.
Oil giants destroy rainforests to make palm oil diesel for motorists
Fuel companies are accelerating the destruction of rainforest by secretly adding palm oil to diesel that is sold to millions of British motorists.
Twelve oil companies supplied a total of 123 million litres of palm oil to filling stations in the year to April, according to official figures obtained by The Times.
Only 15 per cent of the palm oil came from plantations that met any kind of environmental standard. Much of the rest came from land previously occupied by rainforest.
Vast tracts of rainforest are destroyed each year by companies seeking to take advantage of the world’s growing appetite for plant-based alternatives to fossil fuel.
In theory, greenhouse gas emissions from burning biofuel are lower than those from fossil fuel because crops absorb carbon dioxide as they grow.
But clearing rainforest to create biofuel plantations releases vast quantities of carbon stored in trees and soil. It takes up to 840 years for a palm oil plantation to soak up the carbon emitted when rainforest is burnt to plant the crop.
Deforestation, mainly in the tropics, accounts for almost 20 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The expansion of the palm oil industry in Indonesia has turned the country into the third-largest CO2 emitter, after China and the US. Indonesia has the fastest rate of deforestation, losing an area the size of Wales every year. The expansion of plantations has pushed the orang-utan to the brink of extinction in Sumatra.
Last year British motorists used 27 million litres of palm oil from Indonesia and 64 million litres from Malaysia, according to the Renewable Fuels Agency, the government-funded watchdog that monitors biofuel supplies. Fuel companies also supplied 32 million litres of palm oil from “unknown” countries.
Under a European Union initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, 3.25 per cent of the total amount of fuel sold by each oil company must be biofuel. The proportion is due to rise to 13 per cent by 2020.
In practice most companies meet the obligation by adding biofuel to diesel, creating a blend that contains about 5 per cent biofuel. The companies are not obliged to inform motorists that the petrol or diesel they buy contains biofuel.
Biofuel can be derived from dozens of crops but many fuel companies choose palm oil because it can be cheaper than the more sustainable alternatives such as rapeseed.
The agency knows which companies are using palm oil but is refusing to name them on the ground that the information is commercially sensitive.
Several leading fuel industry figures sit on the agency’s board, including a director of the oil company BP and a senior executive from the coalmining group Anglo American. The agency said that the directors had not been involved in the decision to withhold the names of the companies.
Ian Duff, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace, said: “It cannot be right that the watchdog on biofuels has oil company directors on its board. The agency is preventing the public from discovering which of these companies are selling us palm oil, one of the cheapest and most environmentally damaging biofuels.”
Several major oil companies are exploiting a loophole in the agency’s reporting system to avoid declaring what type of land has been used to grow their biofuel. They are obliged to submit a sustainability report but in the section on the previous use of the land are allowed to say “unknown”.
When calculating the greenhouse gas savings from biofuel the agency ignores the previous use of the land.
Esso said that it did not know the previous use of the land on which 95 per cent of its biofuel was grown. It also refused to say whether it had used any palm oil.
A spokesman said: “Our approach to supplying biofuels must balance sustainability, fuel-product quality and the need to remain competitive in the marketplace.”
BP said that its biofuel included palm oil but claimed that it all came from certified plantations. It failed to declare the previous use of the land for 79 per cent of its biofuel.
Total refused to say whether it used any palm oil. Murco admitted using palm oil but did not respond to questions about its origins. Total, Chevron and Murco all failed to declare the previous use of the land that was the source of more than half their biofuel.
Chevron admitted using palm oil from uncertified sources. A spokesman said: “As sustainable palm oil certification systems become commercially operational, Chevron will progress towards sourcing, supplying and trading only certified palm oil.”
Shell had the best record of the major companies for declaring the sources of its biofuel. It said that it did not use any palm oil last year because it could not find any from a sustainable source. Luis Scoffone, vice-president for biofuels, said that Shell could have met its biofuel obligation more cheaply if it had bought palm oil.
“There is a premium for sustainability that we are incurring,” he said. Shell was likely to use palm oil in the future but only when it could be certain that it was not damaging rainforests.
“It is almost inevitable that we will use palm oil because the amount of biofuel we will need is increasing. Palms deliver one of the highest volumes of oil per hectare of any crop. That means we can use less land to produce the same amount of oil.”