Today's Coming Crisis Movie

Monday, July 25, 2011

Biodiesel: Not Sustainable if it’s Industrial

In 2003, the European Union threw all its weight behind bio-diesel — a fuel manufactured mostly from plant seeds — as the sustainable replacement for fossil fuel. The members created the world’s largest bio-diesel industry, and now to their sorrow are discovering the truth in what has been a mantra of the Daily Impact: renewables aren’t sustainable if they’re industrial. The realization may destroy the $13 billion industry.

The idea of bio-diesel is compelling. Its raw material is grown in fields, and thus renewable; its combustion produces fewer emissions than fossil fuels — in the case of carbon, only whatever carbon they absorbed while growing, allowing the argument that the books are balanced. Since the raw materials for bio-diesel — rapeseed, sunflower seed, mustard, flax and the like — are not used for human staple foods, unlike corn-based ethanol, its manufacture does not directly contribute to human hunger by raising prices and decreasing supply. Key word in the previous sentence: “directly.”

A number of recent studies, commissioned by the European Commission and held as state secrets by them (they leaked, of course), have revealed the Achilles’ Heel of the industry. Its name is ILUC — or indirect land-use change. Industrial-strength bio-diesel production requires, and makes profitable, the planting of so much land to its feedstocks, that two unintended consequences ensue: the land is taken out of the production of foodstuff, thus indirectly contributing to hunger; and marginal lands are converted to its purpose, often by the burning down of forests. (more)