Fleet News

Green transport: Get your sources sorted - or the monkey gets it

Defra openly says that biofuels are an internationally traded commodity and that imports will have a part to play.

A spokesperson says: ‘Assuming that the whole of the 5% RTFO was met by crops – which is unlikely – it would require around six million tonnes of oilseed rape or cereals. In practice, it is likely that the market will be supplied with a mixture of home-grown and imported crops, recycled vegetable oils and tallow (rendered animal fat).’

While UK farmers might be happy about providing the main source for biofuels, there are those less happy with the methods of providing what is likely to be a major source of imported biofuel – palm oil.

Much of the world’s palm oil comes from Malaysia, and refineries to produce biodiesel are springing up around the country.

Palm oil comes from palm trees, and is popular because it is cheaper than any other crop that can be converted to biodiesel.

In August last year, Friends of the Earth published a report looking at the impact of palm oil production in the country. It said: ‘The development of oil palm plantations is one of the biggest causes of rainforest clearance.

‘The palm oil industry has already set up 6.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations across Sumatra and Borneo but it is estimated that it is probably responsible for the destruction of 10 million hectares of rain-forest.’

This destruction is threatening the existence of several forms of wildlife, including the orang-utan – hardly in keeping with the green image that proponents of biofuel would like to convey.

Malcolm Watson, technical director of the UK Petrol Industry Association, says imports will be important, and that fuel suppliers are taking steps to combat concerns about palm oil and rainforest destruction.

‘We are working with the government on a reporting scheme that will identify where there are problems and this would be information published at the end of the year so that companies would know if they were importing from unsustainable production,’ he says.

But the problems aren’t confined to Malaysia. Watson says that making full use of available UK land to grow feedstock for biofuels could have wider effects.

Areas that currently feature diverse ranges of crops could be used to grow only the produce needed for biofuel. This reduction in biodiversity could have a knock-on effect on wildlife and the environment around.

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