Study: ‘green’ biofuels could be costing the earth

From the University of Leicester  department of inconvenient truths:

Caption: Conditions at a mature oil palm plantation site, 18 years after conversion: (left image) open canopy (causing increased soil temperatures), limited ground cover (causing lowered soil moisture content), intensive fertilization (white patches around palm trunks), and (right image) a loose top soil structure (leaning oil palms, footprints).

New study suggests EU biofuels are as carbon intensive as petrol

University of Leicester research into greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations provides robust measures now being used to inform international policies on greenhouse gas emissions

A new study on greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations has calculated a more than 50% increase in levels of CO2 emissions than previously thought – and warned that the demand for ‘green’ biofuels could be costing the earth.

The study from the University of Leicester was conducted for the International Council on Clean Transportation, an international think tank that wished to assess the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biodiesel production. Biodiesel mandates can increase palm oil demand directly (the European Biodiesel Board recently reported big increases in biodiesel imported from Indonesia) and also indirectly, because palm oil is the world’s most important source of vegetable oil and will replace oil from rapeseed or soy in food if they are instead used to make biodiesel.

The University of Leicester researchers carried out the first comprehensive literature review of the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on tropical peatland in Southeast Asia. In contrast to previous work, this study also provides an assessment of the scientific methods used to derive emissions estimates.

They discovered that many previous studies were based on limited data without appropriate recognition of uncertainties and that these studies have been used to formulate current biofuel policies.

The Leicester team established that the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on peat is significantly higher than previously assumed. They concluded that a value of 86 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year (annualised over 50 years) is the most robust currently available estimate; this compares with previous estimates of around 50 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year. CO2 emissions increase further if you are interested specifically in the short term greenhouse gas implications of palm oil production – for instance under the EU Renewable Energy Directive which assesses emissions over 20 years, the corresponding emissions rate would be 106 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per hectare per year.

The findings have been published as an International White Paper from the ICCT.

IMAGE:Oil palm plantations on peat: note the leaning trunks owing to low load-bearing capacity of peat soils.Click here for more information.

Ross Morrison, of the University of Leicester Department of Geography, said: “Although the climate change impacts of palm oil production on tropical peatland are becoming more widely recognised, this research shows that estimates of emissions have been drawn from a very limited number of scientific studies, most of which have underestimated the actual scale of emissions from oil palm. These results show that biofuels causing any significant expansion of palm on tropical peat will actually increase emissions relative to petroleum fuels. When produced in this way, biofuels do not represent a sustainable fuel source”.

Dr Sue Page, Reader in Physical Geography at the University of Leicester, added: “Tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia are a globally important store of soil carbon – exceeding the amount stored in tropical forest vegetation. They are under enormous pressure from plantation development. Projections indicate an increase in oil palm plantations on peat to a total area of 2.5Mha by the year 2020 in western Indonesia alone –an area equivalent in size to the land area of the United Kingdom.”

Growth in palm oil production has been a key component of meeting growing global demand for biodiesel over recent decades. This growth has been accompanied by mounting concern over the impact of the oil palm business on tropical forests and carbon dense peat swamp forests in particular. Tropical peatland is one of Earth’s largest and most efficient carbon sinks. Development of tropical peatland for agriculture and plantations removes the carbon sink capacity of the peatland system with large carbon losses arising particularly from enhanced peat degradation and the loss of any future carbon sequestration by the native peat swamp forest vegetation.

Although there have been a number of assessments on greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil production systems, estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from land use have all been based on the results of a limited number of scientific studies. A general consensus has emerged that emissions from peat degradation have not yet been adequately accounted for.

The results of the Leicester study are important because an increase in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with biodiesel from palm oil, even if expansion on peat only occurs indirectly, will negate any savings relative to the use of diesel derived from fossil fuel.

If these improved estimates are applied to recent International Food Policy Research Institute modelling of the European biofuel market , they imply that on average biofuels in Europe will be as carbon intensive as petrol , with all biodiesel from food crops worse than fossil diesel and the biggest impact being a 60% increase in the land use emissions resulting from palm oil biodiesel. Bioethanol or biodiesel from waste cooking oil, on the other hand, could still offer carbon savings.

IMAGE:Subsidence pole inserted in peatland in Johor, peninsular Malaysia. The pole was inserted beside an oil palm plantation in 1978 and at the time of this photograph (2007), 2.3 m…Click here for more information.

This outcome has important implications for European Union policies on climate and renewable energy sources.

Dr Sue Page said: “It is important that the full greenhouse gas emissions ‘cost’ of biofuel production is made clear to the consumer, who may otherwise be mislead into thinking that all biofuels have a positive environmental impact. In addition to the high greenhouse gas emissions associated with oil palm plantations on tropical peatlands, these agro-systems have also been implicated in loss of primary rainforest and associated biodiversity, including rare and endangered species such as the orang-utan and Sumatran tiger.

“We are very excited by the outcomes of our research – our study has already been accepted and used by several scientists, NGOs, economists and policy advisors in Europe and the USA to better represent the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil biodiesel production and consumption.

“The findings of this research will be used by organisations such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, European Commission and California Air Resources Board to more fully account for greenhouse gas emissions and their uncertainties from biofuel produced from palm oil. This is essential in identifying the least environmentally damaging biofuel production pathways, and the formulation of national and international biofuel and transportation policies.”

Dr Chris Malins of the ICCT said, “Peat degradation under oil palm is a major source of emissions from biodiesel production. Recognising that emissions are larger than previously thought will help regulators such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), European Commission (EC) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) identify which biofuel pathways are likely to lead to sustainable greenhouse gas emissions reductions”.

###

The research was funded by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an international think-tank made up of representatives from the world’s leading vehicle manufacturing nations. The research was commissioned by Dr Chris Mallins of the ICCT and led by Dr Susan Page and Ross Morrison, both of the Department of Geography, University of Leicester. Other contributors to the work were Professor Jack Rieley of the University of Nottingham and chair of the scientific advisory board of the International Peat Society (IPS), Dr Aljosja Hooijer of Deltares in the Netherlands, and Dr Jyrki Jauhiainen of the University of Helsinki. The research was conducted over a period of three months during spring of this year and has recently been published as an International White Paper by the ICCT.

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74 thoughts on “Study: ‘green’ biofuels could be costing the earth

  1. Here in the UK the costs of both food and fuel are soaring. This will inevitably lead to an increase in hunger and hypothermia related deaths this coming winter. The situation in the third world will be much, much worse. I would have thought that the obvious first step to mitigate against this human suffering would be to stop turning crops into automobile fuel.

    In my opinion, anybody who advocates biofuel policies is not just wrong, but evil. The motive is as old as the hills – follow the money.

  2. It’s good that we have the CAGW-theological CO2 counting business for these people; otherwise they would be unemployable. But please pay them a minimum wage.

  3. We also have to look at the big picture and include Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI/EROEI) e.g. see:
    A Review of the Past and Current State of EROI Data Gupta et al. Sustainability 2011, 3, 1796-1809; doi:10.3390/su3101796

    and
    System Energy Assessment (SEA), Defining a Standard Measure of EROI for Energy Businesses as Whole Systems Murply et al. Sustainability 2011, 3, 1888-1907; doi:10.3390/su3101888

    Using straight vegetable oil is much better than processed triglycerides. See:
    Is it environmentally advantageous to use vegetable oil directly as biofuel instead of converting it to biodiesel? Estaban et al. Biomass and Bioenergy Volume 35, Issue 3, March 2011, Pages 1317-1328

    To be sustainable, fuels need an EROI of >> 3. The EROI for petroleum is sinking fast as countries peak and progressively deplete their available light oil resources. Alternatives fossil fuels have relatively low EROI.

    Ethanol is worse with EROI of about 1. Solar thermal energy or wind appear to have the highest EROI, and thus the greatest promise in the long term for future fuels.

  4. Dang. There’s that unexpected consequence thing again. ;) Everyday, it’s more and more obvious that the greenies have trouble seeing beyond the ends of their pointy little noses.

  5. Is anyone surprised that bio-fuels increase CO2 emissions? Apart from watermelons and NGOs and bureaucrats and the BBC and…….

  6. I lost all faith in environ-mental-ists when I learned – The palm oil and timber industries are guilty of truly horrific ecological atrocities, one of which is the systematic genocide of orangutans

  7. I’ve been saying for years that the cutting down of SE Asia forest for palm oil plantations, largely to produce biofuels is the biggest environmental disaster of my lifetime.

    It happens I have been to Johor many times and have travelled through the vast palm oil plantation that covers the east of the state. Where I saw the only tiger I have ever seen in the wild. Sadly dead of starvation.

    I could go on, but I would just get angry at the clueless no-nothing Greens who are wrecking the planet with their ignorance.

  8. That’s *crazy*. Who would have ever thought that ideas that were pushed forward in response to feel-good environmental extremism with no thought for science or reality would be fraught with unintended consequences?

  9. Dr Chris Malins of the ICCT said, “Peat degradation under oil palm is a major source of emissions from biodiesel production. Recognising that emissions are larger than previously thought will help regulators such as the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), European Commission (EC) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) identify which biofuel pathways are likely to lead to sustainable greenhouse gas emissions reductions”.

    The answer is none.

  10. My vote is still for using nuclear power plants to fix CO2 into Methane for transport, heat, and cheap energy storage.

    That is the bridge technology until fusion becomes practical.

  11. “The EU should support the development of renewable energy supply strategies in developing countries.” – WWF policy statement on biofuels.

    We, the WWF, support the annihilation of Orangutans. Sure, we’ll tell you not to burn down the forest to plant palms, but we’ll offer incentives for you to do so – good hard cash from the EU, if we have any left.

    It’s about time the WWF realised that biofuels suck. If they stuck to protecting wildlife rather being world carbon cops, I’d respect them a whole lot more.

  12. TL;DR

    Sorry, they lost me at “robust” in the first sentence.

    How about this: “No food for fuel. If you can’t eat it, you can burn it. If you can eat it , don’t burn it.”

  13. Just another example of unintended consequences (or were they?) from the “We gotta do sumthin’! Now!” crowd!
    The subsidence pole measure is particularly telling. I would have liked to see the scale over time. No doubt there was an uptick in the speed of the process over the last decade or so! Wouldn’t it be funny if it was proved the sea wasn’t rising but that the land was sinking because of schemes like this?
    I still don’t understand why releasing CO2 currently sequestered in plants by using them for fuel is better than releasing CO2 that was sequestered in plants a long time ago (oil). It just doesn’t make sense when it reduces the crop necessary to maintain human life through plain old eating!
    Was there oil money used in the study? You know this will come up!

  14. Latitude:
    I think the term genocide is a little strong here. Kind of falls in to Godwin’s law.

  15. Kum Dollison says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:38 am
    We’ll just stick with those nice, clean tar sands; ok?

    Since my food isn’t made from the output of those tar sands, that’s a truly great idea. Perhaps the best one you’ve ever had.

  16. John-X:
    It goes a little farther. Often farmers will stop growing plants that you can eat to start growing subsidized plants you can’t eat for biofuel. Just as bad of consequences. Only waste bio products should be used for biofuel.

  17. Wasn’t whale oil used at one time for heating and light?

    Couldn’t that have been classified as a “renewable biofuel”? If we’re searching for renewable biofuels, why do we ever stop using the ones we had?

  18. Dr Sue Page said: “It is important that the full greenhouse gas emissions ‘cost’ of biofuel production is made clear to the consumer, who may otherwise be mislead into thinking that all biofuels have a positive environmental impact.

    Unfortunately, as the EU has mandated minimum percentages of bio-fuel in diesel. the consumer does not have any say in the matter.
    I used to make bio-diesel myself on a smale scale. but that was with waste cooking oil so I get to keep my green brownie points.

  19. Kum Dollison says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:38 am
    “We’ll just stick with those nice, clean tar sands; ok?”

    They’re only clean once the tar is removed.

  20. Jeff in Calgary says:
    November 4, 2011 at 9:22 am
    Latitude:
    I think the term genocide is a little strong here. Kind of falls in to Godwin’s law.

    Sorry to say Jeff, but I think Latitude is spot on the mark.

  21. More Soylent Green! says:
    November 4, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Kum Dollison says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:38 am
    We’ll just stick with those nice, clean tar sands; ok?

    Since my food isn’t made from the output of those tar sands, that’s a truly great idea. Perhaps the best one you’ve ever had.
    =======================================================================
    I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Do you cook your food? Is it transported via rail or truck? Does it require fertilizer? Is it wrapped in plastic?, etc. etc.

  22. Yep, “Food” is in such short supply that we pay farmers NOT to plant 30,000,000 Acres every year.

    And, that’s just in the U.S.

  23. I would love to see a study on the number of times that attempts to mitigate perceived environmental problems have resulted in producing very real environmental disasters .

  24. DirkH says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:20 am
    ………… Solar thermal energy or wind appear to have the highest EROI, and thus the greatest promise in the long term for future fuels.
    ———————
    Yeah but that’s like talking about overdrive on a jackass. It’s a good idea but, it just doesn’t work.

  25. A small nit to pick with Leicester Uni – the UK is closer to 25 Million hectares than 2 point five Million. If you fancy a laugh and the link works, you’ll find that even the UK’s very own Dept of Ag (DEFRA) don’t know how much land there is here.

    http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/30/03/2009/114908/DEFRA-doesn39t-know-area-of-England39s-farmland.htm

    I had a bit of thought the other day (scareeeee) and it ‘fits’ in with this article…
    Basically, is the measured increase in atmospheric CO2 level more to do with the advent of tractors and industrial scale (deep) ploughing than the actual burning of fossil fuel? A twenty fold increase in fossil fuel use doesn’t really stack up against CO2 going up by ~50% since 1900 but; does it correlate better to the ever increasing amount of cultivated land being used/needed/required to feed all the people. Just look at the tons per Ha these folks are quoting.
    Is it the farmers what did it and not the SUV drivers?
    Just a thought.

  26. Chuck Nolan says:
    November 4, 2011 at 10:20 am
    “DirkH says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:20 am
    ………… Solar thermal energy or wind appear to have the highest EROI, and thus the greatest promise in the long term for future fuels.
    ———————
    Yeah but that’s like talking about overdrive on a jackass. It’s a good idea but, it just doesn’t work.”

    I didn’t say that; it was David L. Hagen; with whom I only agree insofar as future energy sources must have an EROEI > 3 to be viable (I prefer that to “sustainable”).

  27. David L. Hagen,

    Solar and wind may have the highest EROI, but they suffer from the greatest intermittence problems. Solar can only be collected when the sun is out, so cloudy days or night time doesn’t work well. For wind, the wind has to be in the right speed range (not too high or too low) and from the right general direction. Energy “created” by these methods cannot currently be stored in any efficient way but must be transmitted to the end user immediately. As such, on days when solar or wind do quite well, any “over-production” is simply wasted, whereas on days not favorable to solar or wind production, the backup generators using gas or coal must provide the power. If you don’t factor in the backup generators, you do not get the correct answer for the ACTUAL EROI of solar and wind.

    I have seen studies from Great Britain that show that on the coldest days where people need energy the most, the wind farms are operating at less than 5% of capacity, which means on days like that their actual EROI is absolutely abysmal.

  28. To those of you talking about “those nice clean tar sands”:

    1. If they output less CO2 than biofuels, then by “environmentalist” standards they can be said to be “cleaner”.

    2. After we remove all of the oil from the tar sands, all that will be left will be sand, and that is nice and clean, so we are doing the earth a favor by cleaning out all of that useable (but goopy) oil from Canada’s sandbox.

  29. Kum Dollison says:
    November 4, 2011 at 10:09 am
    “Yep, “Food” is in such short supply that we pay farmers NOT to plant 30,000,000 Acres every year.
    And, that’s just in the U.S.”

    I knew about the Ethanol subsidies in the US but nothing about subsidies for fallow land. Is there such a thing in the US?
    Here in Germany, there were fallow acres 10 years ago, paid for by EU subsidies, but it looks like the Biodiesel subsidies make it now more profitable to grow rape on them; and the high prices for wheat also help to convince the farmers to actually use their land.

    And yes, Kum, food is in short supply in regions of the world that can’t pay the current high prices to replace failing harvests by imports; whitness Somalia. Also, before the Arab Spring revolts in Egypt, food prices shot up. Wheat had been subsidized by the Moubarakh regime, but nonsubsidized foodstuffs like tomatoes went up by 600% in price in local currency.

    Maybe, by continuing the Ethanol programme, the US intentionally drives up worldwide food prices to destabilize certain regimes.

  30. Curiousgeorge says:
    November 4, 2011 at 10:06 am
    More Soylent Green! says:
    November 4, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Kum Dollison says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:38 am
    We’ll just stick with those nice, clean tar sands; ok?

    Since my food isn’t made from the output of those tar sands, that’s a truly great idea. Perhaps the best one you’ve ever had.
    =======================================================================
    I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Do you cook your food? Is it transported via rail or truck? Does it require fertilizer? Is it wrapped in plastic?, etc. etc.

    I’m sure it’s not made from the output of the tar sands. I didn’t say it wasn’t made using the output of the tar sands. I don’t deliberately consume petroleum or petroleum by-products. Do you?

    Do you understand crop land that should be growing food is instead used to produce biofuels? Do you understand how this has caused a world-wide increase in food prices, contributing to hunger and starvation?

    And as the the tarsands, we have plenty of other oil reserves we could be using, but aren’t.

  31. erfiebob says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:56 am
    “…unintended consequences…”
    Nick Shaw says:
    November 4, 2011 at 9:04 am
    “Just another example of unintended consequences (or were they?)”

    150+ years of studying what happens when you set some idiotic market stimulus…
    80 years of seeing what happens in planned economies….
    50 years of coming to grips with the effects of eco-propaganda…
    They were intended consequences.
    When someone talks to me about being green, my answer has been for some time: “Sorry, I prefer my colonialism in the old 19th-century style – Cecil Rhodes & the Maxim gun – they at least put up some infrastructure and educated a middle class.”

  32. Rather than focusing on the carbon footprint of biofuels, how about UoL focus on the turning-over of productive agricultural land to growing food to burn while people in eastern Africa are starving to death?

  33. “…because palm oil is the world’s most important source of vegetable oil and will replace oil from rapeseed or soy in food if they are instead used to make biodiesel…”

    Let’s try something – let people use the palm oil FIRST – and set up bio-oil recycling centers. You’ll still get the oil (it may be dirtier), but people have collected and used old deep-fry oil in cars for awhile now.

    To me, allowing “virgin” oil to used for biodiesel is a waste.

  34. Bloke down the pub says:
    November 4, 2011 at 9:57 am
    Jeff in Calgary says:
    November 4, 2011 at 9:22 am
    Latitude:
    I think the term genocide is a little strong here. Kind of falls in to Godwin’s law.

    Sorry to say Jeff, but I think Latitude is spot on the mark.

    I agree. Statistics are that a child dies from hunger every 6 seconds. Now think about that as you pump 10% ethanol into your tank. All the land that could have been crop land and all the crops that could have been food – all so that people can make money from biofuels which do not even meet their basic purpose of reducing CO2 emissions.

    So in the time you have read this another child has died of hunger.

    The self-aggrandizing alarmist climate ‘scientists’ have a lot to answer for.

  35. Biodiesel has negative impacts on operations and emissions of diesel engines. High levels of biodiesel (B20) can cause sludge and deposits in the fuel and lubricant systems of modern engines. Plus, biodiesel causes increased NOx emissions which is well documented by CARB and other government organizations. Hydroprocessing fats and oils into hydrocarbon fuels produces a much better fuel, but at the expense of needing H2 for removal of oxygen and satruating double bonds in fats and oils. This fuel has lower emissions than conventional diesel and is biodegradable and non-toxic. But it is expensive as there is more equipment needed to do this processing than is needed to produce FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) biodiesel fuel.
    A better way to make fuel is to grow as much biomass as possible and convert it to fuels using gasification/F-T conversion. This produces drop in hydrocarbon fuels with much lower GHG emissions than from all other biomass resources. Cellulosic ethanol is a dead issue as the cost of these plants is high and the conversion efficiency of biomass into ethanol is low on an energy basis. Plus gasoline engines do not have the thermal efficiency of diesel engines (more MPG for diesels).

  36. P Walker says:
    November 4, 2011 at 10:15 am

    I would love to see a study on the number of times that attempts to mitigate perceived environmental problems have resulted in producing very real environmental disasters .
    “”

    Every time. I looked. I cannot name a single success.

    I am beginning to think it is planned.

  37. Crispin in Waterloo says:
    November 4, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Berkeley said that there is a negative return on energy with respect to biofuel production.

    http://www.7gen.com/blog-entry/energy-return-investment-eroi-study-biofuels/438

    __________________
    Charles S. Opalek, PE looked at wind power and found the same thing. http://www.windpowerfraud.com/

    So far ,it is all about sucking money out of tax payers to pay for bogus “clean Energy”

    Thorium Nuclear looks like the best place to put our tax money: http://pubs.acs.org/cen/science/87/8746sci2.html

    February 16, 2011
    China’s Thorium Reactor and Japan’s targets 10 MW thorium miniFuji for 2016

    China has committed itself to establishing an entirely new nuclear energy program using thorium as a fuel, within 20 years. http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/02/chinas-thorium-reactor-and-japans.html

    Seems even the Guardian (UK) is on board! http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/sep/09/thorium-weinberg-foundation

    Mininuclear could be used for transportation too: “Mr. Fukushima stated that IThEMS is negotiating with Korean Shipbuilders over the potential sale of Mini-Fujis for ship propulsion systems.” http://nextbigfuture.com/2010/10/minifuji-thorium-reactor-group-talks-to.html

  38. I wonder just how many of those plantations are owned by international corporations?

    So I took a quick look:

    …Almost all oil palm is grown as an industrial plantation crop in both Malaysia and Indonesia. In Indonesia, half of the plantations are owned by private companies, which are often part of large conglomerates; the remainder are owned either by the state (17 percent or by smallholders (33 percent).34 Smallholders are farmers who own a few acres each in a section of a large company’s plantation. Although they tend their own oil palm trees, they depend on the company for planting, pesticides, fertilizers, sale of the palm fruits (at a price set by the company), and initial processing in the company’s on-site mill…..

    Important global corporate consumers of palm oil are Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Cognis, Cargill,45 and Archer Daniels Midland (through Wilmar Trading).

    The international banking sector is also deeply involved in financing oil palm. A study of Dutch financing of Indonesia’s oil palm sector gave detailed examples of 50 different financial connections between 8 major Dutch banks and 19 different client companies in Indonesia.47

    …World Bank policies and loans facilitated the expansion of the Indonesian oil palm subsector under Suharto, and the Asian Development Bank has been similarly active in funding oil palm projects. Indonesia’s group of multilateral and bilateral creditors that constitute the Consultative Group on Indonesia includes the European Union, the United States and Japan, in addition to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.48 Structural adjustment programs supported by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have also encouraged the expansion of foreign-exchange-earning export crops…

    http://www.cspinet.org/palm/PalmOilReport.pdf (Source is not very good)

    Seems we are back to the World Bank AGAIN. see SAPs:http://www.whirledbank.org/development/sap.html and http://www.whirledbank.org/development/debt.html

    Another case of Cui Bono – answer the Banks and Ag Cartel.

  39. Wind is perhaps the worse alternative power source available. Wind takes a lot of land, requires new transmission lines, kills birds by the thousands and the turbines emit sub-sonic sounds and vibrations that make living nearby unbearable for many people.

    The worst thing about wind power is wind is intermittent. Wind power requires a nearly 100% redundancy in order to ensure a steady supply of power. Instead wasting money on duplication, why not just build the conventional power plants instead? The cost per-megawatt hour for wind is very high. The same money could be spent on a modern, highly-efficient, clean-burning natural gas plant instead.

  40. Kum Dollison says:
    November 4, 2011 at 10:09 am

    Yep, “Food” is in such short supply that we pay farmers NOT to plant 30,000,000 Acres every year.

    And, that’s just in the U.S.
    =============================================================================
    Your 30 million acres number is a little off.
    For 2007 it’s 38,547,450 acres. To put this number in perspective, it’s 1.7% of the total US landmass and about 4% of total farmland.

    Oh, it’s also “Farmland in conservation or wetlands reserve programs”. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservation_Reserve_Program

    For those not disposed to follow the link. The natural “resources conservation programs help people reduce soil erosion, enhance water supplies with groundwater recharge, improve water quality, increase wildlife habitat, and reduce damages caused by floods and other natural disasters. The CRP encourages farmers to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, such as cultivated or native bunchgrasses and grasslands, wildlife and pollinators food and shelter plantings, windbreak and shade trees, filter and buffer strips, grassed waterways, and riparian buffers.”

    So planting in that 38 million acres could increase soil erosion, reduce groundwater levels and decrease wildlife habitat. Now we’re back to the unintended consequences. But hey, we’d be producing food,

  41. see! – if the flipping greenies would stick to the really important stuff – and left the AGW meme alone – the world would be a better place.

  42. I thought the “green agenda” was to preserve the “natural” environment.

    Clearing tropical rainforest to assist into redirecting food into the fuel supply stream just seems so wrong on so many fronts.

    What happened to the radicals of the past – haven’t they become the the establishment ? And, aren’t they just as manipulative and dishonest as the “establishment” they railed against ?

  43. I wonder just how many of those plantations are owned by international corporations?

    The answer is none.

    Foreigners and foreign companies are not allowed to own land in Malaysia or Indonesia.

    I believe the largest owner of palm oil plantations in Johor is the Sultan (of Johor) who is extraordinarily rich.

  44. Try and re-read the article while keeping in mind:
    a) CO2 emission is not problematic, but beneficial;
    b) biofuels are a net energy loser, as it takes more to generate them than they return;

    The perversity and stupidity are enough to moggle the bind.

  45. Greenies get to wreck environments and economies simultaneously, all in the name of “saving the planet”. Dr. Evil himself couldn’t come up with a more dastardly plan.

  46. It’s down to about 30 Million Acres, now, Brian. They’re taking a couple of million acres out every year. It’s on “contract,” so a farmer would have to pay a penalty to take his/her acres out before the contract expires.

    Most of it is just too marginal to make a steady income in corn, wheat, or beans. Most of it will probably end up in switchgrass, or miscanthus. You’ll still have all the advantages you mentioned, plus we’ll get another 30 Billion Gallons, or so, per year of transportation fuel.

    We could give away an unlimited amount of corn, and beans at the pier every year, and those same Africans would still be starving. It has nothing to do with “us.” It’s “them.” They don’t have the “Capital, or Knowledge to “farm,” and they don’t have the money to buy product (and, even if they did, their own politicians/elites would have it marked up so high they couldn’t afford it anyway *and, on top of that, there is so little transportation infrastructure through most of Africa, that if we managed to get it past the elites, we still couldn’t get it to the villages.)

    We might as well worry about what we can do to save ourselves. Maybe, somewhere along the way, They will catch a break.

  47. What would cause someone who hasn’t a clue what they’re talking about to post this?

    “b) biofuels are a net energy loser, as it takes more to generate them than they return;”

    Speaking of “perverse,” and nind mumbingly stupid . . . . . .

  48. DirkH says:
    November 4, 2011 at 9:55 am
    Kum Dollison says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:38 am
    “We’ll just stick with those nice, clean tar sands; ok?”

    They’re only clean once the tar is removed.
    ————————————————————————————————————-
    I think Kum had his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek. The Alberta oil sands are only called tar sands by Greenies and Americans who relate to “tar” pits in the US. The Athabasca Oil sands leak crude oi; out of the ground and have leaked into rivers for hundreds of years, The first explorers of the area noted it. I know some of you don’t like Wikipedia, but the Athabasca oil sands contain heavy crude oil (not tar) roughly equivalent to all the known oil reserves in the world.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athabasca_oil_sands

  49. Yeah, I was just bein’ a bit sarcastic. They’re messy, but we (or the Chinese, or both) are going to use them. If they’re “reclaimed” properly (and, they will be,) they can be used w/o any lasting damage. They Are slow to develop. They’re not going to just jump in and start turning out 4, or 5 mbpd, much less 10 – 12 mbpd. It’ll take awhile.

    In the meantime, world demand is increasing by about 1.5 million barrel/day, Annually, and within the next half-decade, or sooner, we’ll be looking at Declining world production. So, we’re going to have to “hustle.”

    We’re already producing approx. 2 million Barrels of Biofuels/Day (more than the oil sands,) and we will have to ramp that up pretty sportily to stay ahead of the curve. The article about palm oil, and peat, is, mostly, pretty much nonsense, but palm oil won’t turn out to be the “Major” Player in the game (just not enough yield/acre, and a bit too labor-intensive.

  50. This says it all

    Quote

    The University of Leicester researchers carried out the first comprehensive literature review of the scale of greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations on tropical peatland in Southeast Asia.

    Unquote

    They did not even get off their backsides.

    Question for the outraged.

    What would you grow instead of Palm Oil?

    Did you know that they dont like planting on Peat, they avoid it.

    The picture of the “Fertiliser” reminded me of the Polar Bear on the bergybit. Ask yourself, why no pictures of wheat/barley. rye, beet, fields when they have been fertilised.

    Plus I will add, grass will be grown under these trees, cattle raised, yields increased all with no fertilsers. That is starting now.

    Oil Mills use fruit bunches as fuel. The fronds are used as fertilser. They use plants to control insects, they use owls to control vermin.

    I know a lot of my friends are senior planters, been in the business 40 years. They are not impressed with these reports and rightly so.

  51. Philip Bradley says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:42 am
    I’ve been saying for years that the cutting down of SE Asia forest for palm oil plantations, largely to produce biofuels is the biggest environmental disaster of my lifetime.

    The “haze” that blankets SE Asia each year to make way for the oil palm is surely the cause of Trenberth’s missing heat. Mile after mile of jungle cut down and burned to make way for oil palm.

    And Climate Science is worried about fossil fuel? Isn’t it really over-population they are trying to solve? The solution. Burn food in you cars. That will solve the over-population problem quick enough. Eugenics with a modern face. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot – amateurs in comparison. Killing millions to save the planet.

    http://thecitizen.co.tz/sunday-citizen/-/15298-special-reportmillions-face-starvation-across-africa-as-land-rush-intensifies

  52. Sorry this post and some comments have really yanked my chain.

    Would it not be much better to start with ” How can we do this much better”

    Those having apoplexy over palm oil. You need to ask yourself some hard questions and make the first connection. Is this not proof indeed that watermelons are Insane. Dammed if you dammed if you dont.

    It is the most productive and versatile crop even more so than Hemp. Oh hemp, perfect but guess what you cannot use it, its name, hemp, nudge nudge so its better to kill thousands of old people because they cannot afford fuel rather than, God forbid, grow hemp.

    Co2 emitters, ignoring that CO2 is good, a well run Palm oIl plantation uses little fertilisers ( what wrong with them, nature uses them all the time). Why waste money when you have other means to do it. They produce their own energy, use used fruit bunches to power the powers and biodiesel to power the generators. They use their own water, all vegetable waste gets used as fertiliser or mulch. It is carbon neutral.

    Yes I get that some good forest has been stolen, yes and that makes me angry, people have been disposed. Thats is peoples and corporations fault and greed not bio fuels or palm oil. Look at the land clearances in Scotland and Ireland for a historical perspective. Have we not learned anything from that????????

    Solar is crap in the tropics. The jungle produces masses of junk and gunk every day. In very short order both solar panels and solar heaters are junk. Nothing will clean it. Except, i have designed a bio product that will using existing bacterial technology. Any funders??? real action not apoplexy. As usual, do it yourself or not at all.

  53. Roger Longstaff says:
    November 4, 2011 at 8:19 am
    In my opinion, anybody who advocates biofuel policies is not just wrong, but evil…..
    .
    I agree. In effect most biofuels are taking food from empty stomachs in order to feed empty gas tanks. And all in the name of science that is almost certainly wrong and possibly fraudulent.
    I think the word ‘obscene’ comes to mind….
    Chris

  54. Logic is not a strong point with some people. Yes the use of corn in the USA did drive up some food prices, no doubt. But what happened, no more corn than ever is grown. Prices falling.

    How much wheat, barley, lettuce, sugar beet , leeks can you grow in the jungle or tropical scrub?

    How much food can you grow on millions of acres set aside as “non productive”

    The problem is not bio fuels, its bad management.

    Also cows cannot eat corn, too much sugar. So remove the sugar and make ethanol and then you have a nice animal food. Just one small issue ignored. Maybe not strictly correct but I think that you get the point.

  55. “A new study on greenhouse gas emissions from oil palm plantations has calculated a more than 50% increase in levels of CO2 emissions than previously thought – and warned that the demand for ‘green’ biofuels could be costing the earth.”

    I think it to be a very dangerous folly to burn edible hydrocarbons as fuel instead of using them in the food chain, either for direct consumption or indirect via animal feed. This artificially ties the value of food to the manipulated market price for energy, so not only does OPEC have a major say in fuel prices but now they will have a say in the price of food.

    In the west, we still have enough prosperity to afford this unnecessary jump in food prices, but the social disruption caused by rising food prices was a published factor in the overthrow of some Arab governments. The people who advocated this policy now have blood on their hands from its unintended consequences.

  56. Grey lensman says:
    November 5, 2011 at 4:33 am
    Logic is not a strong point with some people. Yes the use of corn in the USA did drive up some food prices, no doubt. But what happened, no more corn than ever is grown. Prices falling.

    How much wheat, barley, lettuce, sugar beet , leeks can you grow in the jungle or tropical scrub?

    How much food can you grow on millions of acres set aside as “non productive”

    The problem is not bio fuels, its bad management.

    Also cows cannot eat corn, too much sugar. So remove the sugar and make ethanol and then you have a nice animal food. Just one small issue ignored. Maybe not strictly correct but I think that you get the point.

    Cows cannot eat corn? Really?

    Some people have no knowledge of basic facts, but enjoy lecturing others anyway.

  57. Diverting arable land suitable for food crops to biofuel production won’t fly in the long run of course. One might argue it was necessary to do it as a bridge to get to the promised land. The promised land is an organism that only needs sunlight, waste or brackish water, and air to produce biofuels with minimal pre or post processing. There are some patented, genetically modified species of bluegreen algae that are believed to be good enough to compete with light sweet crude oil @ $30/bbl. Even if that’s overly optimistic today the price of LSC is closer to $100/bbl and even ethanol from corn meal and diesel from corn oil can compete with $100/bbl crude.

    The current strategy of using food crops for biofuel feedstock does however get the infrastructure in place and working with these fuels after they’ve been produced. A lot of the transportation fleet for instance have engines able to burn anything from 100% gasoline to a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline – the so-called “E85″ standard also known as “FlexFuel” and many if not most gasoline you buy at the pump is 10% ethanol.

    The promise of synthetic biology only begins at competing with $30/bbl oil. There’s nothing stopping it from getting to $3/bbl equivalent that I can see when all that’s essential to it is sunlight, brackish water, and air. Algae grow quite well in seawater, air is everywhere, and sunlight is plentiful even though some locations get more than others. So you run a pipe to supply seawater to a barren desert and grow all the biofuel crops you want in that location which is good for nothing else anyhow. At a yield of 20,000 gallons/acre/year 10% of the Texas panhandle devoted to biofuel production will supply all the liquid fuel requirements of the whole United States. It has the water and sunlight already and all it’s being used for is oil wells, wind turbines, and livestock forage. There’s one person who lives there for 150 acres. You’d have to treble the population just to get enough workers to run the biofuel operation.

    Mark my words. Within the next few decades we will see a 180 degree change in how atmospheric CO2 is treated. National governments and world organizations will need to limit how much CO2 can be REMOVED from the atmosphere instead of how much can be added. Carbon is a basic building block for not only fuels but also for construction materials of all sorts. Once we have synthetic organisms that can be programmed to build things out of carbon and carbon compounds essentially for free there will be a gold rush on atmospheric CO2 because that’s the handiest, most ubiquitous source of carbon to use in building durable goods. Unlike fuels which return the carbon to air if you build homes and furniture and all sorts of other things out of carbon composites the CO2 removed from the atmosphere doesn’t get returned. Eventually that will become a huge problem.

  58. Yep more Soylent Green

    Suggest you read ” Maybe not strictly correct but I think that you get the point.”

    I was just making up a simplistic example.off the top of my head. Plus you know that Cows really function best on good green grass as per design, Nut thats not the point.
    so cotton is evil you cant eat it, but make shirts to keep warm but growing biodiesel to keep warm is evil

    Jeez

  59. More Soylent Green! says:
    November 5, 2011 at 7:19 am

    “Cows cannot eat corn? Really?”

    They can but it’s not good for them. Causes all sorts of digestive problems.

    “Some people have no knowledge of basic facts, but enjoy lecturing others anyway.”

    Yeah, but in this case it’s you that didn’t have the basic facts.

  60. @soylent green con’t

    Unlike cattle, people can and do use corn as a staple food without any problems. Therein lies the rub with diverting corn for biofuel production. It’s the price for whole kernal corn and corn meal that poh’ people who subsist on it must pay. Those people couldn’t afford beef to begin with so that’s not much of a problem. Not a lot of the price of beef depends on the price of corn anyhow as corn is only used to fatten them up for a few months before slaughter. It also requires a number additives including antibiotics and hormones for them to tolerate eating whole grain corn for a few months without getting sick. Whole grains are not natural components of the ruminant diet.

  61. John Marshall says:
    November 5, 2011 at 3:33 am

    “Biofuels are driving the cost of food to levels that are unaffordable.”

    Yes but OPEC is driving the cost of oil to levels that are unaffordable.

    I’d bust up OPEC, one way or another, if it was up to me. International trade law prohibits price fixing but that’s exactly what OPEC does – they are a multi-national cartel and they fix the price of oil. It’s illegal under international law so I guess it’s one of those “too big to fail” situations that lets banks and auto companies get away with things. In this case “too big to fight”. We’d probably have to oust the governments of the OPEC countries to end the illegal price fixing and that would so disrupt the flow of oil in the short term that it becomes a case of “the cure is worse than the disease”.

    The second option is to elect someone like Rick Perry who realizes the US is an energy rich nation and if legal prohibitions are lifted we could either stop importing oil and/or drive the price of it down so far that it would no longer be a problem. It takes some big stones and disregard for the economic fortunes of OPEC nations just to make that change but I really think it’s time and it’s the only viable plan I’ve heard for fixing the US economy as getting off the dependence on foreign oil would entail a couple million people in good paying jobs in the energy industry right here at home.

  62. henrythethird says:

    Let’s try something – let people use the palm oil FIRST – and set up bio-oil recycling centers. You’ll still get the oil (it may be dirtier), but people have collected and used old deep-fry oil in cars for awhile now.

    There’s also the issue of transesterification. Which requires strong acids and a light alcohol such as methanol or ethanol. Even though Rudolf Diesel’s prototype worked perfectly well without replacing propan-1,2,3-triol (glycerol) with mono alcohols.

  63. Good points guys. Something drives up prices, some are ok some are not. Selective condemnation. Personally I dont feel comfortable using corn as a fuel , even if it goes increase the usage. Much better to use both land and crops that are only really suitable for fuel crops. As is the case of Palm Oil. Yes greed gets in the way, they try to use good jungle but again thats people, bad management, bad control. Not the concept.

  64. Grey lensman says:
    November 5, 2011 at 4:33 am
    The problem is not bio fuels, its bad management.
    The problem is that without all the mandates, subsidies, and tax breaks, the bio-fuel industry would collapse in a heartbeat. It’s an industry based on politics, greed, and bad science. It’s enough to give anyone indigestion.

  65. Never mind the co2!! The onLy crime is using edible oils to replace abundant fossil and nuclear fuels. Another study destined for the waste basket of time.

  66. Gary, are you saying that energy diversity is a bad thing. That we sould not use low quality and land set aside for growing fuel and industry crops. Palm Oil can be grown in a vast range, and has a huge range of uses. Only so much cooking oil and stuff.

    Seems to me sometimes that Watermelons with their calls for protecting environmental diversity forget the sale needs apply to Humans, their economies and energy.

    We need to demand more hydro kinetic, geothermal and sensible bio fuels. Scrap the corporate windmills and accept solar only works in a few places. Similarly does it take much to ensure that both energy and food production increase.

  67. Palm Oil can be grown in a vast range, and has a huge range of uses. Only so much cooking oil and stuff.

    But what happens in real life is slash-and-burn jungle clearance. Jungle soils are good for jungles: thin, fast turnover soil, readily depleted by any kind of non-diverse (e.g., farming or logging) replanting. Bad idea.

  68. @ Grey Lensman; It seems pretty obvious that those who are in the biofuels industry would have strong motives to push the energy diversity and energy independence “advantages”, in addition to the carbon nonsense, while completely ignoring the dollar cost in comparison to conventional fuels, as well as pooh-poohing any environmental concerns. It all boils down to greed and ethics.

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