A blog from University of Borås

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Biofuels in Europe: Ethics or...?

European Union is now going to reduce its target to use food-based renewable energy and limit it to 5% in 2020. In the last few years, a great effort has been to produce ethanol, biogas and biodiesel from food-based vegetables such as grains in Europe. However, whenever a crisis appears, debates on producing such biofuels pops up. However, not all the aspects are usually discussed:

  • Is it ok to take the food from a poor african child and make it as fuel for a rich European?
  • Is it ok to use water in relatively dry countries to produce fuel for reach European cars?
  • Is it ok to use the arable lands to produce biofuels and not food for the billions of hungry mouths?
There are many of such questions, which of course we should say NO!
But, there are some other questions as well:
  • What a poor farmer does, when there is an overproduction of the grains in a region or a year? Should he sell it in low price?
  • Why shouldn't we develop unused lands, and unemployed people in some regions or countries to cultivate grains and produce biofuels?
As example, there are now about 7,000 farm-based biogas plants in Germany, and about 600,000 tons excess grains in Sweden. What should these farmers do? Should we stop their farms and import more oil and gas from Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia? Is it sustainable?


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Sustainability: A complex question!

I have recently watched a documentary film "The Magical Forest" on YouTube from BBC documentary, and I recommend everybody working on biofuel and bioenergy to watch this film. It shows how different species such as salmon fishes, bears, flying squirrels, fungi, catterpillar, etc. have imporant functions for a nordic forest to survive. It is usally hard to imagine that a lot of nutients for the trees in a forest come from the ocean by salmon, or the squirrels help the trees to obtain water during the dry season.

It shows perfectly that nature has a very complex balance, that is not so easy to predict all the aspects. For example, dams and hydropowers are probably the best way of producing electricity. However, it can damage the Amazon forests as mentioned before, or damage the nordic forests by stopping the nutrients that should come from the ocean by salmon fishes. These aspects are not so often considered and are not highlighted in media. We should also think about such aspects of other lovely bioenergies such as wind power, solar power, biogas, ethanol, biodiesel, etc., and also the fossil fuels such as oil, gas, tar sand, nuclear plants. All the discussions are usually limited to CO2 or some other simple aspects that are easy to measure, but the question is much more complex!!!

(The Magical forest by BBC documentary)