Biofuels are not ecologically or climate-wise friendly

Keskiviikko 24.1.2024 klo 13.39 - Mikko Nikinmaa

Burning causes carbon dioxide emissions. In the case of biofuels, the amount of carbon dioxide produced is actually higher than for fossil fuels. The claim that biofuels are climate-friendly is based on thinking that the produced carbon dioxide is taken up relatively rapidly by the plants used for further production of biofuels, i.e. the net emission of carbon dioxide can be zero, if the plants grown for  biofuels consume use up the carbon dioxide for oxygen production at the same rate as it is produced. However, this misses the point that burning causes carbon dioxide emissions, and any such emissions contribute to climate change. One could, and in my opinion should, decouple the plant growth, which is a carbon sink, and burning of plant products such as biofuels, which is a carbon dioxide emitter. One can grow plants without burning them.

Biofuels are produced especially using oil plants such as oil palm. Also other plants, such as maize and sugar cane are important sources of biofuels. Typically biofuels are produced by rich countries, often from plants grown in poor areas instead of food crops needed for the local population. This is true, e.g., for oil palm, which has got a really bad reputation. However, the bad reputation should not be warranted, if the palm oil were not used for biofuels but only for food oil. This would markedly reduce the need of agricultural land for oil plants, since oil palms produce at least 5-10 the amount of oil per unit area as other oil plants. Thus, if food oil production worldwide changed towards palm oil, decreased area of agricultural land were needed and more (tropical) forests could be saved (as soybean is one of the most important oil plants in use). So, ecologically, the important thing would not be to stop growing oil palms but stop producing biofuels made using them.

In addition to plants, food waste is a major source of biofuels. In my opinion, food and other wastes are good materials for thermal power plants, as then all the produced small particles and even carbon dioxide can be taken up by collectors inserted in chimneys. However, the carbon dioxide in car, truck, ship and plane exhausts will inevitably contribute to world’s carbon dioxide load. Further, in the case of food waste-based biofuel the link between carbon sink and source is more difficult to establish than for plant-based biofuel. In this case only the carbon dioxide produced in the burning process can reliably be established.

In conclusion, I do not think that biofuels are either ecologically or climatewise a sustainable solution. Instead, we should use cars and planes less, use e-meetings when we find them useful. Doing this we could easily diminish our need for biofuels for the short transition period from petrol- or diesel oil-using engines to more sustainable ones.

Kommentoi kirjoitusta. Avainsanat: climate change, palm oil, carbon dioxide emission, sustainability, oil plants, food waste