As the international community gears toward the mass production of biofuels hyped as cheaper and environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, skeptics from the science and technology sector say these are not viable alternatives.
BY CYE REYES
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VIII, No. 26, August 3-9, 2008
BAGUIO CITY (246 kms north of Manila)—As the international community gears toward the mass production of biofuels hyped as cheaper and environment-friendly alternative to fossil fuels, skeptics from the science and technology sector say these are not viable alternatives.
While adhering to the idea of turning to biofuels to limit the effects of global warming, a visiting scientist in a talk last week said those in the know are not convinced that biofuels are the answer to the present environmental crisis.
Natalie Pulvinar of Agham or Advocates of Science and Technology for the People, said in a forum at Saint Louis University last week that biofuels also emit greenhouse gasses thus also contributing to air pollution.
“Biofuels are not ‘clean’ burning, they are just ‘cleaner’ burning,” Pulvinar said, comparing the deemed alternative fuels to the conventional fossil fuels like coal and petroleum. She stressed that biofuels are still carbon-based fuels and still emit air pollutants but not as much as petroleum fuels do.
“Aside from this, mass production of sources of biofuels like jathropa or tuba-tuba rely heavily on petroleum inputs that offset greenhouse gas reductions, and therefore is not the cheapest way to get greenhouse savings,” she added.
The water demands of large biofuel facilities also significantly impacts on local water supplies especially the water for massive irrigation facilities in large plantations.
Increase in fertilizer and pesticides use is also among the concerns of Agham. The group says that large plantations would require the use of big amounts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which would result in soil, groundwater and surface water pollution.
Deforestation and loss of biodiversity
According to Pulvinar, immense deforestation and loss of biodiversity are major impacts of the converting lands into large plantations for biofuel crops.
“Large-scale land conversions would mean massive deforestation of what is left of the country’s forestlands resulting in the loss of biodiversity,” said Pulvinar adding that deforestation is also one major cause of global warming.
She cited the experiences of other countries with the same thrust such as Argentina where more than 500,000 hectares of forestlands were converted into soya plantations from 1998-2002, and in Indonesia and Malaysia where expansion of palm oil plantations further threatened populations of orangutans, rhinoceros, tigers and other animals on the brink of extinction.
There are also hidden energy costs in the conversion of energy crops into usable fuels. Pulvinar said to convert corn into bio-ethanol, the net energy value (NEV) would be at least $1.3 to $1.67.
“”However, other costs could make the net energy value negative if the costs of the fermentation, distillation, subsidies, environmental pollution and degradation would be considered,” stressed Pulvinar.
“Government’s grand mega-sale”
“This global ‘biofuel rush’ is due to the global demand especially of developed countries like the United States and the European Union, which are highly-industrialized and which thus consume and require more fuels,” said Pulvinar.
Most biofuels consumed in the European Union are imported from Brazil and Southeast Asia.
Because of this “biofuel rush,” the Philippines has enacted a Biofuels Law or Republic Act No. 9136 known as the Biofuels Act of 2006, with the goal of of gaining billions of pesos in foreign investments and opening up the country for large-scale biofuel production, according to Pulvinar.
“This is the government’s grand mega-sale of our country to foreign monopoly firms in energy,” said Pulvinar citing examples like the Saudi Aramco with a $300-million expansion of the Mindanao ethanol plant and Japan’s Toyo Engineering that targets 600,000 hectares of land for coco-biodiesel production in the country.
Alternative to the alternative
“The government’s thrust should be towards nationalization of the country’s energy industry and not privatization and should ensure the people’s welfare,” Pulvinar concluded, stressing that the key is to have strategic planning for a more sustainable growth. Northern Dispatch / Posted by (Bulatlat.com)