UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics - biofuels consultation.
This has been posted before - deadline March 15.
Recently covered in UK Guardian
Biofuels: can they fuel our lifestyle without taking food from the poor? | Alok Jha
Photograph: Public domain
Green crude from oil processed from algae
guardian.co.uk Blogposts Tue 22 Dec 2009 12:57 GMT
A consultation by the UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics wants to hear public opinion on the new generation of biofuels
Just in case you thought it was safe to stop thinking about biofuels, here comes another study – this time into the ethics. Can a new generation of biofuels ensure we don't increase greenhouse gas emissions and take food from the poor to fuel our cars?
The UK Nuffield Council on Bioethics (NCB) launched a consultation today calling for anyone and everyone's views on biofuels – everything from ethanol to futuristic synthetic hydrocarbons from algae.
The story for biofuels is well-told among environmentalists. Hailed as a sustainable way to produce liquid fuels for transport, their promise quickly began to fade
as the inadvertent side effects of growing the crops began to spoil the claims made by manufacturers.
First generation biofuels are made from food crops including sugar cane, soy or wheat. In some cases, however, the net greenhouse gas emissions from these (once transportation and processing were taken into account) were no significantly improvement on burning the fossil fuels they replaced, such as diesel.
In addition, using food crops meant that farmers found a more lucrative market for their crops. Tortilla wars and rising food prices in general started to raise alarm bells.
In the UK, the Gallagher review (pdf) suggested a slowdown of the UK's Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation. The obligation forced fuel suppliers to mix 2.5% biofuels into the road transport fuel they sold in 2008-09. It proposes that this target increases by 1.25% per year to 5% in 2010-11. Beyond the UK, at a European level, a critical report (pdf) by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, called Biofuels in the European Context: Facts and Uncertainties, has caused havoc with EU targets.
There's also further research suggesting that fertiliser used to grow biofuels can also be a significant source of greenhouse gases.
However, despite all these problems with the first generation biofuels, the NCB reckons second-generation fuels are much more interesting. "Research into new types of biofuels is looking more promising," said Joyce Tait, chair of the NCB's working party on biofuels. "Rather than using food crops to produce biofuels, in the future we may be able to use algae, trees, the inedible 'woody' parts of plants, and agricultural waste.
"In addition, scientists are working to increase the yield of biofuel crops and improve the production process, in order to maximise the energy output of land and reduce net greenhouse gas emissions."
Before these new technologies are brought to life, however, Tait says society must think soon about how it can avoid the problems of first generation biofuels: "We also want to find out how consumers feel about moving towards a greater use of biofuels. People's attitudes will have a major impact on whether biofuels can successfully become part of the energy mix."
The council will look at the displacement of local communities from land given over to biofuel production and stories of poor conditions for workers, and environmental pollution. "We want to ensure that the ethical dimension is taken into account. We want to see that the production of new types of biofuels, especially in developing counties, has a positive effect on local communities and supports economic development by creating jobs and new sources of income," said Tait.
The NCB wants to hear [Word doc] from anyone with a personal or professional interest in biofuels, both from developing and developed countries – the deadline for responses is March 15 next year. The final report, meanwhile, with recommendations for policy makers, will be published some time before the end of 2010.