Palm Oil as Biofuel Rejected by the EU; Future of Biofuel Elsewhere
This week, members of the European Parliament voted on a very important issue regarding the future of biofuel. According to a huge majority of the Parliament, the EU should slowly get rid of vegetable oils – including palm oil – when it comes to biofuel. If the European Commission approves the measure, then the plan of phasing out palm oil as biofuel will have to be achieved by 2020.
Putting the Brakes on European Biofuel Boom
The European Parliament’s vote signals a shift in the industry’s desire to push for biofuels no matter the price. The momentum on biofuels is starting to dwindle as more policymakers become aware of the ecological and social expenses. On one hand, environmentalists agree that plant-based fuels such as palm oil are much cleaner than fossil fuels. On the other, they raise concerns about the price we pay for biofuels. Environmental devastation, effect on food prices, and human rights violations are some of the consequences that put a damper on the original enthusiasm.
Only a decade ago, the European Union declared biofuels as critical to achieve their goal. The plan was to source at least 10 percent of the region’s transport fuel from oil alternatives. However, critics who speak against using palm oil as biofuel say the price has been too heavy. The chase for petroleum substitutes has caused the loss of 1 million hectares of tropical soils around the world, as well as rampant deforestation in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.
The bottom line in regard to biofuels does not look good. According to a recent study, crop-based fuels are responsible for the loss of carbon sinks such as peatlands and severe deforestation. When all these effects were taken into consideration, biodiesel from vegetable-based oils produced on average 80 percent more greenhouse emissions than traditional fuels.+
The Way to Energy Independence
But what about the U.S.? Could a similar movement start in the nation where the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) has caused a surge of soy- and corn-based biofuels? The RFS originally came into existence under the 2005 Energy Policy Act. However, in 2007, it expanded under the Energy Independence and Security Act, becoming a tactic to cut down American dependence on external sources of energy.
However, that program not only failed to do that, but it also ignited a food-versus-fuel debate. Opponents of the RFS argued land shouldn’t be used to grow crops for alternative fuel but to grow food. Eventually, development in electric vehicle technology could eradicate the increasing need for soy diesel or corn ethanol.
Interestingly, those against the RFS program could find allies under the new White House administration, despite Donald Trump’s resolve to grow the domestic fossil fuel production. Rose Garr, the campaign director at the NGO Mighty Earth explains his point of view on the RFS.
“The RFS was sold to many of us as necessary for energy independence. The rationale was that biofuels would be cleaner and reduce the need for foreign oil. But no one really thought about how much land is needed to source this fuel, or how many crops are displaced in order to fill our tank.”
Palm Oil as Biofuel: Cause & Effect
Unfortunately, the intended outcome couldn’t differ more from the perverse reality. Right now, the U.S. imports more biodiesel from abroad, continuing our dependence on foreign sources. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), these imports spiked by 916 million gallons in the past year. Argentina provides around two-thirds of biodiesel imports, a country that nearly doubled its biofuel exports between 2015 and 2016.
Plenty of non-profit organizations have expressed their concerns about America’s push for biodiesel. Combined with a huge demand for cattle feed, this insatiable thirst for alternative fuels has caused severe deforestation across Argentina. The countries Yungas and chaco forests disappear as soybeans cultures take over.
Oddly enough, the growing movement against the production and import of biofuels has created an interesting coalition. Organizations and companies from all over the globe have come together. Environmental organizations, anti-hunger advocacy groups, meat producers, and oil businesses make strange bedfellows. Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, Oxfam, the National Turkey Federation, the National Chicken Council, and the dominant American Petroleum Institute are just some of the names against biofuels.
These groups have different reasons for objecting to this obsession with biofuels. Some pointed out the ever-growing demand for land for fuel crops instead of food crops. Others speak against the spikes in the cost of animal feed, which are driving food prices up. Oil companies, on the other hand, have expressed concern over biofuels threatening their market. In the end, it’s also worrying that monocultures of corn and soy and have taken over so much conservation land.
While the objectives of these groups differ, they could get their concerns across to the White House and find a willing ear. If they find common ground in their crusade, they could help environmentalists prevent greater harm to the changing climate. Donald Trump’s current stance on fuel production is worrying, but some hope that a change in the RFS could influence the society and environment in a positive way.
Since Trump’s administration favors advisers opposed to the advance of renewable fuel – people who keep the oil and gas interests at heart – the cause could gain more traction in the next few years. The oil industry has also pointed out that soy and corn cultures have created a “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico. The biofuel movement has decimated marine life and severely harmed local fishing industries.
The best solution, in the end, is the electric vehicle; a car that doesn’t need to rely on biofuels or fossil fuels. The ultimate answer to this debate is an electrified vehicle connected to a grid powered by renewable energy. While Americans and Europeans may disagree along the way, the reality is as clear on both continents. If we continue to use corn and soy to fuel our cars, we need to realize something. The source of that biofuel will be somewhere else other than a local farm.