Feeds

Biofuel backlash prompts Brussels back-pedal

Corn-based fuel becoming a hot potato

The essential guide to IT transformation

The ongoing backlash against biofuels continues to gather pace, with news out of Brussels that the European Union may postpone or even drop plans for biosource quotas in motor fuel.

The Guardian reported this weekend that officials in the European Commission are getting ready to backtrack on plans for ten per cent biofuel to be required in all European petrol and diesel by 2020.

"This is all very sensitive and fast-moving," an unnamed Commission bureaucrat told the Graun.

"There is now a lot of new evidence on biofuels and the commission has become a prisoner of this process."

Another official said that the ten per cent target "is now secondary", and that anyway it probably could no longer be met due to tough draft standards on sustainable production. This would seem to imply that most existing biofuel production wouldn't qualify under the draft Brussels rules.

At present most vehicle biofuel uses ethanol, ethyl alcohol, either as a percentage of normal fuel or exclusively in suitably adapted cars. So-called "flex-fuel" vehicles can run on any mixture of ethanol and regular fossil fuel.

But ethanol must currently be produced from food crops such as corn or sugar cane. The drive to ethanol - pushed, perhaps, as much by surging oil prices as environmental concerns - is seen by many as being behind recent food price rises and consequent hunger in some regions.

On top of that, many experts believe that ethanol biofuel doesn't reduce overall CO2 emissions as much as its proponents claim. In theory, the exhaust-pipe carbon is compensated for by the CO2 absorbed during photosynthesis in the growing plants used to make the fuel. But critics point out that intensively farmed crops draw carbon from artificial fertilisers, and that the process of turning the harvest into alcohol is also highly carbon-intensive.

Thus the actual reduction in CO2 emissions which can be claimed as a result of burning biofuel is the subject of much debate - the more so as this is critically important in the planned European carbon markets. The Graun reports that Brussels mandarins are hoping to gain acceptance for a figure of 35 per cent carbon reduction by burning agreed types of ethanol as compared to ordinary fossil fuels. In other words, if the whole transport industry could switch to using nothing but ethanol - no fossil fuel at all - the European Commission believe that overall transport-sector emissions would be down by about one-third.

There are alternative types of biofuel, such as methyl alcohol (wood alcohol) which can be made from non-food biomass or other sources. Lacking the support of powerful farm lobbies, however, methanol, biodiesel and the like have failed to gain widespread backing. Even if they did, the same criticisms of low or even notional carbon reduction, limited biomass availability etc might be levelled at them - though some would still pursue such plans on energy security grounds.

UK motor fuel is required to be 2.5 per cent biofuel already, and the plan is for this to rise to five per cent in two years. However, the British government may not press ahead - there is a Whitehall review underway. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN Kickstarter push breaks TWELVE THOUSAND POUNDS
That's right, folks, you've stumped up OVER 9000 beer tokens - and counting
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?