Are biofuels really all that green?

A study lead by researchers from the University of Leicester has revealed the impacts of using biofuels from oil palm plantations may be more damaging than previously thought. The team […]

Register now!

By Tom Gibson

A study lead by researchers from the University of Leicester has revealed the impacts of using biofuels from oil palm plantations may be more damaging than previously thought.

The team conducted work on behalf of the think tank International Council on Clean Transportation. The team concluded that a value of 86 tonnes of carbon dioxide per hectare per year was the effect of generating biofuels. The researchers say they are concerned previous estimates of around 50 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year are helping form current policy.

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”.

Another concern the team highlight is the impact on increasing demand for palm oil and in particular, on tropical forests and carbon dense peat swamp forests. Tropical peatland is one of planet’s largest and most efficient carbon sinks. The researchers say developing tropical peatland for plantations removes the neutralising effect of the carbon sink and effectively increases the carbon footprint of befouls.

Dr Sue Page, a Reader in Physical Geography at the University of Leicester said: “It is important that the full greenhouse gas emissions ‘cost’ of befoul 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 Orangutan and Sumatran tiger.”