Biofuels in Brazil and the environmental cost of them

In Brazil people are talking about biofuels.  Biofuels were hailed as the solution to fossil fuel carbon emissions, rather like biomass is in the United Kingdom today. Brazil produces large quantities of biofuel, mainly from sugar cane, which is turned into ethanol. This is pumped from what used to be petrol pumps and propels transport all over Brazil. 

Of course there is no free lunch in energy, and the complexities of life on earth means that the biofuel panacea turned into a biofuel poison. Countries like Brazil are growing crops for energy, like palm and sugar, which is putting pressure on ecosystems and on food production. In some countries rain forests, those lungs of the earth and those places that hold topsoil together, as well as doing good things with rainfall. 

When you cut down rain forests and plant palm oil you usually release carbon from the soil into the atmosphere. There is no point in growing biofuels if they create as much net carbon in the atmosphere as fossil fuels, and that is what scientists think happens with some kinds of biofuel.

More and more of south east Asia is being dedicated to growing palm for oil, at the expense of rainforests. Trees are very important – not just as carbon stores. They protect the soil and the young growth under their canopies form the harmful effects of strong wind, heat and direct sunlight and they lessen the impact of heavy rain, which would otherwise wash topsoil away.  

The conference about biofuels in Brazil has been all about whether the developed nations would accept biofuel from the developing nations and allow its importation. In the end the developed nations decided that they need better guarantees about the production of biofuels not harming local ecosystems before permitting the importation of these biofuels.

I would like to think that this decision was made on environmental grounds alone, but I gave my doubts, as the developed nations still import huge quantities of manufactured goods from China, made with the dirtiest of dirty energy, without any talk of an embargo.

One Response

  1. Robert,
    Abengoa Bioenergy, which is quoted as being the producer of the largest quantity of Ethanol, uses many defences against the points that you make, I think it is quite obvious that you are right, it is good that you can be assertive enough to rebuff these liers, maybe they recruited from Enron!

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