Sunday, July 29, 2007

EU Commission finds biofuels and agriculture can coexist

Amid growing concerns that aggressive development of biofuels could have serious adverse impacts on food production and food prices, the European Union has concluded that limited targets for biofuels production would lead to only modest impacts on agriculture.

In an interview with David Roberts in the current grist, energy guru Amory Lovins says that his analysis produces similar results:

"We suggest that U.S. mobility fuels could be provided without displacing any food crops. You could do it just with switchgrass and the like on conservation reserve land. Being a perennial, which can even be grown in polyculture, switchgrass and its relatives would hold the soil better because they're much deeper rooted than the shallow-rooted annuals with which that erosion-prone land is often planted. And of course the perennials don't need any cultivation or other inputs. "

This discussion/debate is clearly far from over. (GW)

Biofuels: Impact on agriculture 'modest' says Commission

July 27, 2007

Amid growing public concern about the impact of biofuels production on land-use and cereal prices, the Commission has found that 10% biofuels use in transport by 2020 would produce only limited pressure on agricultural markets.



The 8-9 March Council Conclusions set a target of 10% biofuels use in transport by 2020, following recommendations made by the Commission.

A target of 5.75% biofuels use by 2010 was set in 2003, but the Commission decided to increase the targets in light of growing concerns over rising oil prices, energy security and climate change.

An important condition for reaching the 2020 target is the development of so-called "second generation" biofuels, which are made from the stems and woody parts of plants through advanced technological processes. Currently, most "first generation" biofuels are made from vegetable oils, animal fats, plant sugars and starches. In many cases, first generation fuels require significant amounts of land and are less efficient than second generation processes, which do not yet exist at an industrial scale.

Reaching the 10% target for biofuels in transport by 2020 would not "overly stretch the [EU's] land availability", according to an impact assessment conducted by DG Agriculture and published on 24 July.

The assessment predicts that 15% of arable land would need to be used for biofuel production by 2020, a figure that the Commission considers "relatively modest". Much of the increased biofuel production would take place on "set aside" land, which is reserved under the Common Agricultural Policy to limit excessive production by farmers.

While the Commission argues in its assessment that the use of set-aside land would not lead to an increase in pesticide or fertiliser use, environmental groups have countered that this would be detrimental for wildlife.

WWF, for example, supports the 10% biofuels target, but under the condition that it is coupled with energy efficiency measures and an EU-wide sustainability certification scheme, including set aside land for conservation and wildlife.

In terms of prices, the Commission foresees a 3%-6% "long-run" increase of cereal prices compared with 2006 levels. Changes in feed prices for livestock "would appear relatively moderate to neutral", since by-products from biodiesel and bioethanol production could be used to feed the animals, according to the Commission.

But the Commission's conclusions on land use and prices depend to a great extent on the availability of second-generation biofuels at an industrial scale, as this would decrease land-use requirements as well as the EU's reliance on biofuel imports.

Without second-generation biofuels, however, costs, imports and land use would increase considerably, according to the Commission.

The assessment also points out that relying on first-generation biofuels alone would not be sufficient for reaching the 10% target simply in terms of fuel production. The assessment puts 2014 as the date when second generation technology would likely become available.

In related news, the NGO Eurobserv'ER has published its annual "Biofuel Barometer" for 2007, which reports an 80% increase in EU biofuel consumption since 2005. Germany in particular has witnessed a significant increase in the consumption of crude vegetable oil, which is considered a fully fledged fuel.


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