UK govt starts to question biofuels option

image: biofuels protest outside Downing St., attended by The Coffee House earlier this year.


Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said: “To tackle climate change we will need to develop new, cleaner fuels – but that doesn’t mean pushing forward indiscriminately on biofuels that may do more harm than good.”

The UK is to slow its adoption of biofuels amid fears they raise food prices and harm the environment, the transport secretary has said. Ruth Kelly said biofuels had potential to cut carbon emissions but there were “increasing questions” about them.  “Uncontrolled” growing of fuel crops could destroy rainforest, she told MPs.

Ms Kelly’s statement comes as the European Parliament is about to vote on whether to scrap the EU’s target of sourcing 10% of transport fuel from biofuels by 2020.

World Bank president Robert Zoellick has also called for reform in rich countries, urging them to grow more food instead.

A panel of government experts, chaired by Professor Ed Gallagher, head of the Renewable Fuels Agency, has looked at the impact of energy policy on land use. Its report calls for biofuels to be introduced more slowly than planned until controls are in place to prevent higher food prices and land being switched from forests or agriculture.

His review says biofuel production should be focused on idle and marginal land and the use of so-called second generation biofuels. These use waste parts of plants for energy to avoid land use change and reduce competition with food production.

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5 Responses to UK govt starts to question biofuels option

  1. tarpon says:

    There is a site called Fire Mapper which gives fire information on natural and man made fires worldwide.

    More here …

    It’s truly astounding how much of the world is on fire at any given time, mostly from purpose set agricultural burning or land clearing. A whole lot of the land clearing is being done in the Amazon and Africa for purposes of growing biofuels. It’s the new crop gold rush.

  2. matt says:

    Thanks for the info Tarpon. It really does look like the worlds on fire. Pitty the map you link to isn’t more user friendly but, as you say on your blog, they’ll get there.

    For others, here’s the link to the Fire Mapper

  3. Brian Clark says:

    Good to see the U.K. acting sensibly in regards to energy from plants. Here in the U.S., not so good! However, there are a number of research universities, including mine, doing work on second-generation plant-fuel sources. You can learn about what we’re up to here:

  4. the Grit says:

    Hi Brian,

    Since it looks like you are a scientist, and your comment has inspired me with what may be a good idea, I’ll run it by you. What if, instead of going through the wasteful process of trying to ferment bio-mass to produce alcohol, the material was dried and powered. I’m thinking here that, since dust in grain silos (and coal mines) can, without proper ventilation, cause them to explode, it should be capable of pushing a piston up and down. Since our military, and the Russians, have figured out how to aerosolize powders, as in anthrax spores, any kind of finely ground vegetable dust should go nicely through the fuel injection system of an internal combustion engine, with the proper adjustments, of course.

    Am I crazy here or what?

    the Grit

  5. matt says:

    Good to hear from you again Brian and congratulations on winning a Silver Award for your editorship of Washington State University’s weekly electronic newsletter, On Solid Ground (

    Very good to see the US appears serious on pushing forward with research into bioenergy solutions. The Roadmap for Bioenergy and Biobased Products looks promising. I hope funding for this research is keeping pace. Pity all those billions in subsidies for the ethanol industry weren’t channelled your way first!

    For others, take a look at Roadmap for Bioenergy and Biobased Products in the United States (pdf) . The quote below gives you an idea of what it’s about;

    The Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee (Committee) developed the Vision for Bioenergy and Biobased Products in the United States and the Roadmap for Bioenergy and Biobased Products in the United States to define a set of achievable quantitative goals and develop an R&D strategy to enable those goals. Developed in 2002, these documents have since been used to guide the joint research solicitation issued each year by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy. Important progress has been made since that time and in 2005, the Committee was asked by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Energy to update its Vision and Roadmap. The Vision was updated in November 2006 and contained aggressive goals for the role that biobased fuels, power and products can have in the U.S. economy.
    The Roadmap was updated based on a series of regional meetings held across the United States to ensure that region-specific issues and opportunities were adequately addressed. The Committee established Regional Roadmap Workshop chairs for each of the Western, Eastern, and Central Regions to guide the updating of the Roadmap. At each of the workshops facilitated discussions helped local experts identify feedstocks, production, infrastructure, and market-related barriers to achieving Vision goals. Workshop participants then mapped technical and policy strategies to overcome those barriers.

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