The trouble with biofuels


Canola can be used as a biofuel.

Credit: istockphoto

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Similarly, the United Nations' independent food expert, Jean Ziegler, has called for a five-year moratorium on all initiatives to develop biofuels to avert what he says might be "horrible" food shortages.

Massive production of biofuels is "a crime against humanity" because of its impact on global food prices, said Ziegler in Berlin in mid-April.

And in March, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says the world should now proceed with extreme caution when it comes to biofuels.

"We should be very, very careful about coming up with biofuel solutions that have major impact on production of food grains and may have an implication for overall food security," he said.

A Bad Rap

But is all this vilification fair? Some projects may threaten wildlife and could increase carbon dioxide emissions, but does that mean that biofuels must be completely rejected?

Many renewable energy experts insist that the answer is a definite no.

"The recent biofuels debate has been very poor and alarmist," says chemist Richard Templer, director of the Porter Institute, which was recently set up at Imperial College, London to research biofuel development.

"There has been no attempt to differentiate the various biological technologies coming on line. People don't realise that current first generation biofuels involve nothing more complex than that involved in rum-making. So yes, there are going to be problems, but we should also note there are many improvements in the pipeline. We should be judging biofuels on the potential of these."

The quality of the recent biofuel debate also infuriates Morris Lyda who began that pioneering biodiesel project in Sydney two years ago.

"We have known all about the advantages and disadvantages of biofuels for decades," he says. "So why has tremendous push of bad publicity appeared over the past 12 months? I think vested interests are getting worried and want biofuels put in their place. It is ridiculous."

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