Biofuels: is an alternative needed to the alternative?

As the world hunts for alternatives to fossil fuels, a storm is brewing in one of the most widespread ‘green’ fuel industries: biofuels. As the popularity of these fuels rockets, with the use of biofuel set to double by 2020, concerns are growing over the impact that their production is having on the global food market and in turn many farming communities.

Produced from plants such as oilseed rape and maize, the advantages of biofuels are clear: their sources are renewable and they avoid the vast quantities of carbon emissions belched into the atmosphere when burning fossil fuels.  It appears a sustainable form of generating energy, without the risks associated with the most widespread alternative to fossil fuel combustion; nuclear energy. However, this is not to say that biofuels constitute the el dorado of the energy industry.

In recent weeks, biofuels and biofuel production have found themselves at the heart of the food price debate, as the UN have accused biofuel producers of taking away valuable farm land used to grow food in some of the world’s poorest countries. An increase in the amount of land used for growing maize and oilseed rape to be converted into fuel has meant that there is less space for crops grown for food, which has caused a significant hike in grain prices with knock-on effects for the entire food market. Tales of South American farmers being forced out of work as biofuel giants seize their land and a recent study conducted by German scientists, which found that the use of biofuels decreased carbon emissions less than 30% rather than the targeted 35%, add to the uncomfortable ethical debate surrounding biofuel production.

So is this the end of the road for this food-based fuel? Surely we cannot afford to deprive the world’s population of their most basic needs in order to fund energy schemes that reap unsatisfactory rewards and only truly benefit those in more affluent, energy guzzling nations. Well not exactly, no… the answer seems to be to look for an alternative to the alternative.

In The Guardian’s report online regarding the biofuels debate, Lars Hansen, President of one of the global pioneers in biofuels, Novozymes, stated that technology was now being developed within the sector to exploit the otherwise unusable parts of maize and oils seed rape such as their stalks and leaves, instead of the source of nutrients, to produce fuel. The search for a more sustainable form of biofuel production promises to be the new mission of many leading groups in the biofuel industry such as BP, in an attempt to lessen the load borne by the food market and amplify the environmental and economic advantages of a potentially vast greener fuel project.

News sources: The Guardian online, BBC website, Novozymes website, BP website.

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Here at TJC Global we offer a range of translation and interpreting services for environmental, agricultural, renewable energy (including bioenergy) and industry- related work. Our translators and interpreters are familiar and experienced with the issues and terminology regarding several areas in this field, including agriculture and trade, environmental technologies and sustainable development, water conservation as well as environmental law and the energy industry. For further information please visit our websites at TJC Global  TJC Oxford, or contact us directly by email.

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