Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Biofuel in many shapes

I have been on a trip to Ethiopia and Zambia. Discussed biofuel in both places. Biofuel comes in many shapes and forms and I don't think it is appropriate to take a firm stance against or for biofuels as such.

It is quite clear that biofuels as such does not have the potential to replace all oil used. Not even for todays transport and even less with the growth of economies and population. There is simply not enough land for that. At the same time that can hardly be an argument biofuel. With that logic all alternative sources of energy useless as none of them will be enough - alone. Then there is this complaint that biofuels increase food prices or creating a lack of food. I have been arguing against this argument before and this year we see how little truth there is in that argument. Last year when food prices spiked many blamed that on biofuel. But today when the wheat price is almost falling through the floor, where are all these voices? What do they say now?

Of course, there can be such a competion, in the same way as there can be competition between animal feed and food, between tobacco and food, between wool and food (sheep raising for wool were allegedly the main reason for the big Irish famine, rather then potato blight as often said), betweem cotton and food, between roads and food (as most roads are built on prime agriculture land). But humans have always produced biofuels and bio energy: Firewood, charcoal, horses and oxen for traction etc. In Sweden some fifteen percent of our land was used to feed horses before.

In Zambia I visited Bruno's Jatropha (see picture), a local entrepreneur that has raised some 1 million Jatropha seedlings. His idea is that smallholders grow it as a hedge row along their fields. He says that 1 million hectare of Jatropha would satisfy all Zambias energy needs. Zambia as a land-locked country without oil is in a desperate need of energy. During my visit they run out of petrol, and that happens quite often. Zambia has plenty of land that can be used for Jatropha or other biofuels, such as ethanol from cane.

Of course there is totally another story if big biofuel projects chase people off the land, but that is no different then when they do that for producing rice or cotton. For those whose land is grabbed it makes little difference what the land is used for...

We must cut down on energy use. There are no silver bullets, not even solar energy will for a foreseeable future be enough. In theory it could but we look perhaps hundred years ahead for that energy party. Today we need to save.

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