Feeds

Biofuel backlash prompts Brussels back-pedal

Corn-based fuel becoming a hot potato

Build a business case: developing custom apps

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. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
NASA's rock'n'roll shock: ROLLING STONE FOUND ON MARS
No sign of Ziggy Stardust and his band
prev story

Whitepapers

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.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.