Biofuels - farmers and greenies vs. the hungry
Europe pursues biofuel creativity - USATODAY.com
The European Union .. proposed mandate to fill 10% of its transportation energy needs with biofuels by 2020. Europe lags behind the United States and Brazil in ethanol, but production of biodiesel has soared, reflecting Europeans' preference for fuel-efficient diesel cars.
...$80 million that the U.S. Department of Energy will invest in a Poet LLC distillery in Emmetsburg, Iowa, that will be upgraded to convert corncobs into ethanol. It is among six cellulosic ethanol projects nationwide awarded a total of $385 million.
Congress also is considering additional assistance to private investors in such projects: $2 billion in loan guarantees, a special 50-cent-a gallon subsidy to go on top of the existing subsidy for conventional ethanol, and a mandate that U.S. motorists use 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022.
The European Union, which consists of 27 countries with a combined population of 500 million, won't meet a goal of getting 5.75% of its transportation fuel from renewable sources by 2010.
The mandatory 2020 target that the EU is considering is more realistic, experts say. That target would require 15 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel, according to a recent European Commission study. That's more modest than the 36-billion-gallon mandate that passed the U.S. Senate this summer.
...Biodiesel has been the renewable fuel of choice in Europe. Europeans are buying more diesel cars because of their increased fuel efficiency, and biodiesel can be made from rapeseed, known in North America as canola, an oilseed crop well suited to Europe.
Many farmers started growing rapeseed because of a requirement that they take 10% of their land out of production of food crops. The European Union also offers farmers a subsidy of $25 per acre to grow rapeseed. European Union countries produced 1.4 billion gallons of biodiesel in 2006, up from 928 million gallons in 2005.
It's not clear how much is being spent in Europe on cellulosic ethanol, because funding for individual projects is left to national governments. The International Institute for Sustainable Development, based in Switzerland, estimates at least $36 million was spent on research and development in 2006. The European Commission spends $14 million a year on biofuel research with plans to increase that by 50%.
In other news:
An independent United Nations investigator has described the biofuels race as a crime against humanity, and called for a five year moratorium on their use.
Jean Ziegler is the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food says converting crops such as maize, wheat and sugar into fuels was driving up the prices of food, land and water. (A Special Rapporteur is an investigator and monitor with responsibility for recommending actions.)
Ziegler says the price of wheat has doubled in just one year and if food crop prices continue to increase, poor countries will no longer be able to import enough food for their people. A major factor in soaring crop prices is the drive to convert more crops into biofuel, reducing developed countries' reliance on fossil fuels. Much of the boom is occurring in the US.
"It is a crime against humanity to convert agricultural productive soil into soil which produces food stuff that will be burned into biofuel," said Ziegler.
While acknowledging the legitimacy of arguments in favour of biofuels, specifically in terms of energy efficiency and combating climate change, he argues the effect of transforming food crops such as wheat and maize into agricultural fuel is "absolutely catastrophic" for hungry people and will negatively impact the realisation of the right to food.
Ziegler believes biofuels will only lead to further hunger in a world where an estimated 854 million people, one out of six, already suffer from the scourge. An estimated 100,000 people die from hunger or malnutrition every day. Yet, as Ziegler pointed out quoting UN Food and Agriculture Organization figures, the world already produces enough food to feed twice its current population.
"All causes of hunger are man-made, it's a problem of access, not overpopulation or underproduction, and can be changed by human decision," Ziegler said.