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BEST-L  January 2007

BEST-L January 2007

Subject:

FW: Just an article you may be interested in

From:

Nathan Mitten <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Nathan Mitten <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 31 Jan 2007 13:42:21 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (200 lines)

...a reminder to take a close look at the WHOLE process, product, etc on an
individual basis before assuming it is good or bad, sustainable or not
sustainable.  This article is primarily focused on palm oil but applies to
our entire quest toward renewable bio-fuels.

Nate Mitten

-----Original Message-----
From: MRG_LCA-L [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Seungjun Lee
Sent: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 12:46 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Just an article you may be interested in

This is an article from NewYork Times. Any product or service 
should be considered in a perspective of life cycle.  Actually, in 
biofuel production, the worst part is "agriculture", which means 
most of environmental emissions come from this initial process, 
agriculture.  You can see that once you conduct an LCA on 
biofuel.

 ===========================================================================
=
Link  
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/31/business/worldbusiness/31biofuel.html?ref=
science

[Once a Dream Fuel, Palm Oil May Be an Eco-Nightmare]

By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
Published: January 31, 2007
AMSTERDAM, Jan. 25 ? Just a few years ago, politicians and 
environmental groups in the Netherlands were thrilled by the early 
and rapid adoption of ?sustainable energy,? achieved in part by 
coaxing electrical plants to use biofuel ? in particular, palm oil 
from Southeast Asia.

Spurred by government subsidies, energy companies became so 
enthusiastic that they designed generators that ran exclusively on 
the oil, which in theory would be cleaner than fossil fuels like 
coal because it is derived from plants.

But last year, when scientists studied practices at palm 
plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, this green fairy tale began 
to look more like an environmental nightmare.

Rising demand for palm oil in Europe brought about the clearing of 
huge tracts of Southeast Asian rainforest and the overuse of 
chemical fertilizer there.

Worse still, the scientists said, space for the expanding palm 
plantations was often created by draining and burning peatland, 
which sent huge amounts of carbon emissions into the atmosphere.

Considering these emissions, Indonesia had quickly become the 
world?s third-leading producer of carbon emissions that scientists 
believe are responsible for global warming, ranked after the 
United States and China, according to a study released in December 
by researchers from Wetlands International and Delft Hydraulics, 
both in the Netherlands.

?It was shocking and totally smashed all the good reasons we 
initially went into palm oil,? said Alex Kaat, a spokesman for 
Wetlands, a conservation group.

The production of biofuels, long a cornerstone of the quest for 
greener energy, may sometimes create more harmful emissions than 
fossil fuels, scientific studies are finding.

As a result, politicians in many countries are rethinking the 
billions of dollars in subsidies that have indiscriminately 
supported the spread of all of these supposedly eco-friendly fuels 
for vehicles and factories. The 2003 European Union Biofuels 
Directive, which demands that all member states aim to have 5.75 
percent of transportation run by biofuel in 2010, is now under 
review.

?If you make biofuels properly, you will reduce greenhouse 
emissions,? said Peder Jensen, of the European Environment Agency 
in Copenhagen. ?But that depends very much on the types of plants 
and how they?re grown and processed. You can end up with a 90 
percent reduction compared to fossil fuels ? or a 20 percent 
increase.?

He added, ?It?s important to take a life-cycle view,? and not to 
?just see what the effects are here in Europe.?

In the Netherlands, the data from Indonesia has provoked 
soul-searching, and helped prompt the government to suspend palm 
oil subsidies. The Netherlands, a leader in green energy, is now 
leading the effort to distinguish which biofuels are truly 
environmentally sound.

The government, environmental groups and some of the Netherlands? 
?green energy? companies are trying to develop programs to trace 
the origins of imported palm oil, to certify which operations 
produce the oil in a responsible manner.

Krista van Velzen, a member of Parliament, said the Netherlands 
should pay compensation to Indonesia for the damage that palm oil 
has caused. ?We can?t only think: does it pollute the 
Netherlands??


In the United States and Brazil most biofuel is ethanol (made from 
corn in the United States and sugar in Brazil), used to power 
vehicles made to run on gasoline. In Europe it is mostly local 
rapeseed and sunflower oil, used to make diesel fuel.

In a small number of instances, plant oil is used in place of 
diesel fuel, without further refinement. But as many European 
countries push for more green energy, they are increasingly 
importing plant oils from the tropics, since there is simply not 
enough plant matter for fuel production at home.

On the surface, the environmental equation that supports biofuels 
is simple: Since they are derived from plants, biofuels absorb 
carbon while they are grown and release it when they are burned. 
In theory that neutralizes their emissions.

But the industry was promoted long before there was adequate 
research, said Reanne Creyghton, who runs Friends of the Earth?s 
campaign against palm oil here.

Biofuelswatch, an environment group in Britain, now says that 
?biofuels should not automatically be classed as renewable 
energy.? It supports a moratorium on subsidies until more research 
can determine whether various biofuels in different regions are 
produced in a nonpolluting manner.

Beyond that, the group suggests that all emissions arising from 
the production of a biofuel be counted as emissions in the country 
where the fuel is actually used, providing a clearer accounting of 
environmental costs.

The demand for palm oil in Europe has soared in the last two 
decades, first for use in food and cosmetics, and more recently 
for fuel. This versatile and cheap oil is used in about 10 percent 
of supermarket products, from chocolate to toothpaste, accounting 
for 21 percent of the global market for edible oils.

Palm oil produces the most energy of all vegetable oils for each 
unit of volume when burned. In much of Europe it is used as a 
substitute for diesel fuel, though in the Netherlands, the 
government has encouraged its use for electricity.

Supported by hundreds of millions of euros in national subsidies, 
the Netherlands rapidly became the leading importer of palm oil in 
Europe, taking in 1.7 million tons last year, nearly double the 
previous year.

The increasing demand has created damage far away. Friends of the 
Earth estimates that 87 percent of the deforestation in Malaysia 
from 1985 to 2000 was caused by new palm oil plantations. In 
Indonesia, the amount of land devoted to palm oil has increased 
118 percent in the last eight years.

In December, scientists from Wetlands International released their 
calculations about the global emissions caused by palm farming on 
peatland.

Peat is an organic sponge that stores huge amounts of carbon, 
helping balance global emissions. Peatland is 90 percent water. 
But when it is drained, the Wetlands International scientists say, 
the stored carbon gases are released into the atmosphere.

To makes matters worse, once dried, peatland is often burned to 
clear ground for plantations. The Dutch study estimated that the 
draining of peatland in Indonesia releases 660 million ton of 
carbon a year into the atmosphere and that fires contributed 1.5 
billion tons annually.

The total is equivalent to 8 percent of all global emissions 
caused annually by burning fossil fuels, the researchers said. 
?These emissions generated by peat drainage in Indonesia were not 
counted before,? said Mr. Kaat. ?It was a totally ignored 
problem.? For the moment Wetlands is backing the certification 
system for palm oil imports.

But some environmental groups say palm oil cannot be produced 
sustainably at reasonable prices. They say palm oil is now cheap 
because of poor environmental practices and labor abuses.

?Yes, there have been bad examples in the palm oil industry,? said 
Arjen Brinkman, a company official at Biox, a young company that 
plans to build three palm oil electrical plants in Holland, using 
oil from palms grown on its own plantations in a manner that it 
says is responsible.

?But it is now clear,? he said, ?that to serve Europe?s markets 
for biofuel and bioenergy, you will have to prove that you produce 
it sustainably ? that you are producing less, not more CO2.?



=================================================
Seungjun Lee, Graduate Student
Center for Environmental Policy
Department of Environmental Engineering Sciences
University of Florida
Tel: (352)392-2461

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