Biofuels – SciDev.Net Report

6 December 2007

Biofuels are described by some as “absolutely catastrophic” because of their potential consequences, by others as “the driving force for development in some of the world’s poorest regions”. SciDev.Net picks a path between doomsayers and utopians, and looks at the reality of biofuels research and development in the developing world.

Biofuels: Let’s look before we leap
Several years ago, faced with growing food shortages, the government of Burma — now Myanmar — ordered farmers throughout the country to start growing rice, whatever type of land they owned. But rice proved to be totally unsuitable for many of the regions in the country, with the result that many farmers were forced even further into poverty, from which they have yet to recover.
The example is an extreme one, but it illustrates the dangers of seeking a quick technological solution to pressing social needs — particularly when the technology in question may not be suited to the conditions in which it is intended to operate.
Biofuels are no different. There are many good reasons for promoting new technologies that can extract energy from plant tissue. More

Strong international policies are needed to stop the biofuel revolution threatening food security for the poor, says Siwa Msangi.
Countries are shifting to biofuels in response to climate change and rising oil prices. But biofuel production poses new food security risks and challenges for poor people. Higher food prices, subsidies for biofuels, and environmental degradation will all be felt disproportionately by the developing world. More

Brazil’s successful sugarcane ethanol industry owes much to massive investment in infrastructure and research, reports Carla Almeida
Thirty years ago, when one litre of ethanol was worth three times more than one litre of gasoline, most nations would not have considered investing in it as a biofuel. But Brazil took this path, and now produces the cheapest ethanol in the world. More

Biofuel holds great promise for Africa but the research isn’t yet in place to reap the rewards, or analyse the pitfalls, reports Kimani Chege.

One Comment on "Biofuels – SciDev.Net Report"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson December 13, 2007 at 5:53 pm ·

    Biofuels Scarce on Bali Menu
    By Marwaan Macan-Markar
    NUSA DUA, Bali, Indonesia , Dec 13 (IPS) – Green groups hoping that the social and environmental cost of biofuels would get an airing at the United Nations climate change conference here are a disappointed lot.
    The Dec. 3-14 conference has given only marginal attention to biofuels during the formal sessions — involving government officials and ministers from some 180 countries — where a blueprint is being shaped to strike a balance between economic growth and environment protection.
    ‘’There has not been a push during the negotiations for biofuels,’’ says Tony Juniper, executive director of the British branch of Friends of the Earth (FoE), a global green lobby. ‘’It had a very low profile on the agenda here. There were only some areas where it did creep in, such as the discussions on forestry and land use.’’

Comments are now closed for this article.