Feature

The trouble with biofuels

G Magazine

Biofuels were once heralded as the answer to climate change, then demonised as making it worse. The truth is somewher in between.

Canola

Canola can be used as a biofuel.

Credit: istockphoto

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Across the world, biofuel projects have been launched and praised as key players in the fight to cut emissions of greenhouse gases.

Given that biofuels merely recirculate carbon dioxide, they should trigger no increase in the atmosphere's carbon burden - unlike oil, petrol and other fossil fuels. Biofuels looked like a clear climate-change winner.

In the United States, the planting of corn (or maize as it is known) to make bioethanol has become a major enterprise following Congress's decision that 15 billion gallons (nearly 57 billion litres) should be made by 2016 for use in America's cars and trucks.

Similarly, a European Union directive committed its member nations to ensuring that 5.75 per cent of their petrol and diesel comes from renewable sources by 2010.

At the same time, the Australian government ruled that 350 million litres of biofuel was to be manufactured, and used by transport, also by 2010.

A bright new future for farming - not as a source of food but as a font of replacement fuels for cars and trucks - was dawning.

But in just over a year, this rosy picture has been transformed.

The future for biofuels looks to be anything but glittering today. Reports from scientists, government panels and green groups have painted them, not as the saviours of our planet, but as a new danger to it.

Biofuels, they say, will increase emissions of carbon dioxide; run the risk of destroying Third World economies; and - by using land that would otherwise be used for food production - lead to widespread hunger in developing countries.

Far from being the saviour of the world, biofuels have begun to look like a new environmental curse.

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