Does the use of biofuels lead to massive deforestation?
It is 41,543 km². This is the area of the Netherlands. It is also the amount of forest lost in the world in 10 years of biofuel production. This is the claim made by the environmental think tank Transport & Environment (T&E) which calls on the EU to end subsidies and support for biofuels.
You are probably already burning biofuel in your car. All unleaded gasoline on sale in Ireland complies with the current EU E5 regulations, which mixes a blend of five percent anhydrous ethanol – an alcohol-type fuel distilled from plants – into the fuel. The diesel primarily meets the B7 regulations for a seven percent blend. The idea is that because plants take in carbon from the air around them as they grow, if you make ethanol from these plants, the carbon emitted by burning it in an engine is in a closed loop. . You’re just sending carbon back into the air, rather than pulling old carbon out of the ground and burning it. E10 fuel – which allows a 10% ethanol blend – is being deployed.
This is a good idea (although it ignores the emissions issues from the production and transportation of crops and the fuel itself – the EU has systems in place that also attempt to regulate these emissions) but that has its fierce critics. One of them is Laura Buffet, Energy Director at T&E, who says, “Ten years of this ‘green’ fuels law and what do we have to show for it? Rampant deforestation, destroyed habitats and worse emissions than if we had used polluting diesel instead. A policy that was supposed to save the planet was actually rampaging. We cannot afford another decade of this failed policy. We must break the monopoly on biofuels in renewable transport and put electricity at the center of the Renewable Energy Directive.
The Renewable Energy Directive (RED) was introduced in 2010, setting a target of 10% renewable energy for transport by 2020 for each EU member state. According to T&E, this has increased demand for biodiesel from cheap crops, such as palm and soybean oil, which comes mainly from Asia and South America. It is likely that around four million hectares of forest were subsequently cleared, destroying around 10 percent of the remaining orangutan habitats worldwide.
According to T&E, the 39 million tonnes of palm oil and soybean-based biodiesel burnt in trucks and cars across the EU over the past decade have in fact emitted more CO2 than the simple combustion of ordinary and old-fashioned diesel. What T&E calls food stocks of “virgin” oil – those made from rapeseed, palm, soybeans) accounted for around 80 percent of the EU’s biofuel supply in 2020. Rapeseed use locally grown and used cooking oil (HU for soybeans, volumes increased by 17% and animal fats by 30% compared to 2019.
“Today, consumers can choose whether they want to buy products contaminated with palm oil. This is not the case for transport. The EU transport sector is currently supporting demand for ruinous palm oil without the knowledge of consumers. We need to phase out palm oil-based biofuels immediately, ”says Buffet. “While palm oil may be the worst, as history has shown, producers will just turn to what is cheap. In reality, unless we act now, the palm will be replaced by soybeans or other virgin oils, shifting the problem from one part of the world to another. Plant-based biofuels are not the solution for transport in Europe and they never will be.
Defending the use of biofuels, James Cogan, industrial and policy adviser to Ethanol Europe, says the problems highlighted by T&E are causing all biofuels at once. “It’s a story of bad regulation,” Cogan says. “The European Commission has created programs to encourage renewable energy, but has failed to establish rules to distinguish between safe and efficient renewables and palm oil biodiesel. These are in particular palm oil and soybean biodiesel. It is not all renewable energies or all biofuels. It is the history of Europe which relocates its production to regions of the world where European standards are not respected. The same sort of thing happens in agriculture and manufacturing. Increasing palm oil biodiesel is bad because more palm oil leads to more deforestation, in countries where conservation is not practiced. European demand for palm oil for biodiesel contributes significantly to deforestation and habitat loss. Palm oil supplies are closely interconnected, so there is no such thing as “sustainable palm oil”, either for biodiesel or for cookies. Every drop of palm oil is “largely unsustainable” and until palm oil deforestation is brought under control, it will remain so. Biofuels must come from Europe where standards are met and where there is traceability.
Cogan says no palm-based biofuels are used in Ireland, but they are heavily used in countries like Italy, Germany and France. He claims to have made “official access to information requests” to the EU to publish data on the countries of origin of all renewable energy in transport in Europe, but feels blocked. The requests are currently being examined by the European Ombudsman.
“Ireland should demand better regulatory standards from Brussels,” Cogan says. “Palm oil isn’t the only bad apple in the barrel. Biodiesel made from used cooking oil is a good thing, as long as the used cooking oil is genuine. A large part is not, due to the weakness of Brussels regulations. Ireland depends on used cooking oil for much of its renewable energy, so we need to make sure that the European Renewable Energy Fraud Prevention System is fit for purpose, and currently it does. is not. In our company, we make sustainable and efficient biofuels from EU agricultural crops. It is fully traceable to the farm where the crops were grown, it is infinitely better for the climate and the environment than regular fuel and there are no negative impacts. It is a peace of mind renewable energy option for Europe and is in fact the largest source of renewable energy in transport today. We are extremely proud of our industry and love for policymakers and environmental groups to visit our facilities and see for themselves how it all works.