Is there really still a biofuel debate?

26 April 2008

In 2020 we will have much less fossil oil - perhaps 70% of what there is now. We are just passing the peak oil production and we can see prices are beginning to rise as demand outstrips supply.

So arguing about whether to have 5% or 10% of transport fuel as biofuel in 2020 is tinkering at the edges. The needed 30% replacement is impossible using biofuels.

Even if biofuels did reduce our greenhouse gases, and even if they didn't cause huge rises in food prices, and even if they provide a brief postponement of our greenhouse-gas problem, they are no solution to our fuel problem. Any government worth its salt would be explaining why we need to change our transport demands significantly now, not greasing our palms with biofuel.
Peter Gardiner
Professor emeritus, Brighton University

Now every litre of fuel pumped into vehicles on British roads will have to contain 2.5% of biofuels under the government's new green fuels legislation, but why is UK fuel so expensive and, in particular, diesel?

Twenty years ago, diesel fuel prices were cheaper than petrol in the UK but now, according to fuel price statistics, apart from Norway (£1.23p per litre), we have the highest average price (£1.15 per litre) across Europe.

Diesel engines are between 15-25% more fuel efficient than equivalent petrol engines and obviously there is a direct correlation between reducing fuel use and reducing CO2 emissions.

Lex runs over 250,000 vehicles on behalf of more than 30,000 companies, and 70% of drivers we supply a new car to annually now choose diesel, reinforcing fact that the company fleet market is playing a significant part in reducing its fossil fuel use.

Based on this type of recognition and the fact that emission-free hydrogen engines are still 15-20 years away, surely the government should close the 8p per litre gap between petrol and diesel - and not by putting up the price of petrol!
Jon Walden
Managing director, Lex

Given the urgency to reduce both climate change and consumption of fossil fuels, it would not be sensible to scrap the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), at a time when it is most needed.

However, the case which Peter Ainsworth makes about ensuring biofuels are sustainably produced is also critical to the argument. If production in some cases will deepen poverty, endanger food security and potentially increase climate change, then this cannot be the right way forward.

The government really should to be promoting a multi-modal transport strategy, which includes greener modes like short-sea and inland shipping. After all, it is widely accepted that shipping uses less energy than other forms of transport.

As recently as 2006, 96% of all UK imports arrived by sea, yet only 9% of goods once here are transported by sea or inland waterway. This can and must be increased, if we are to meet the UK goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 26% by 2020.
Sam Webber
Research officer, Sea and Water

It is entirely possible that biofuels will accelerate climate change, while also having negative impacts on ecosystems, human rights, global poverty and above all food security.

Small scale biofuel production from waste vegetable oil etc. is different. Fast food super chain McDonnalds has a policy of turniong used chip oil into fuel for its delivery fleet. This is an example of biofuels being used properly in a sustainable manner. Mass production from any existing crop is not environmentally sound. The future for biofuels is growing dimmer by the day.

Edited from source:

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