Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Biofuel Debate in the UK

From the BBC, a very thorough article (the second in a two-part series -- the first article is here.) on the economic costs and benefits of ramping up biofuel production in Great Britain. On the positive side, a thriving biofuel industry could do great things for British farmers, as they produce a 3.5 ton surplus of grain each year (I'm assuming that number is per farm -- the article's not quite clear on that). There's also the relative ease of adopting biofuels to the existing infrastructure. On the downside, oil companies won't let biofuels anywhere near there petrol stations, and some are concerned that shifting surplus grain to energy production could produce an economic nightmare should countries like China substantially increase their import of grain:

"There's simply not enough foodstuff available and not enough land to grow it on," says one industry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, for commercial reason.

"E85 is good for raising awareness of biofuels, but on a worldwide basis it is a red herring. Eighty-five percent is not the solution," the official insists, adding that "the way it has been positioned as a solution to UK motoring is naive".

We've certainly heard these arguments before: the Earth Policy Institute, for instance, has been warning for some time now about massive hikes in grain prices should China increase it's purchases. At the same time, we do have a current surplus (and I don't think that's limited to Britain) -- would biofuel production be a smart move environmentally and economically?

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