Enjeux - Biofuels
Challenged as petrol alternative
In a context of climate change and sharp rises in oil barrel prices in recent years, biofuels are often presented by their advocates as an alternative to petrol and as the best-adapted sustainable energy source for vehicles. But critics attack biofuels for their mixed environmental performance and excessive cost, for the way they reduce biodiversity and, most of all, because they take up too much agricultural land – land that was previously used to make food.
Deforestation and reduced biodiversity
The production of biofuels from agricultural products has increased the surface of cultivated land in countries such as Brazil and Malaysia. Critics point to deforestation, reduced biodiversity, increased risks of soil erosion and excessive water use, accusing biofuel-producing countries of being guided purely by economic imperatives.
Strong competition with food production
Although the price of foodstuffs has fallen sharply since, in 2007 the growth of the bioethanol industry was presented as one of the factors responsible for the strong rise in the price of agricultural commodities on world markets, which led to food crises and hunger riots. The significant development of bioethanol production in Brazil using sugar cane had no particular effect on the price of sugar. However, the price of tortillas, a basic food in Latin America, rocketed in Mexico because the country’s corn producers preferred to export their crops at a high price to the USA, where they are transformed into bioethanol.
Countries that are dependent on cereal imports – Egypt, for example – fear that such incidents will repeat and that the increase in land area used to cultivate cereals for biofuel production will once again threaten their food supply.
Environmental credentials called into question
While everyone agrees that we need to develop alternative solutions to petrol, the environmental credentials of biofuels are regularly called into question. Some people challenge the objectivity of the studies assessing their energy performance and their contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gases. They also denounce the sector’s overwhelming emphasis on high productivity.
Les autres dossiers :
BIOFUEL DEVELOPMENT AND WORLD HUNGER
- According to France Nature Environnement, an environmental protection association, “it takes 250 kg of cereals to fill the tank of a 4x4 enough to feed a man for a whole year”.
- Jean Ziegler, rapporteur on the right to food from 2000 to 2008 at the United Nations, maintains that “the development of biofuels will aggravate world hunger”.
THE SHARE OF BIOFUELS IN THE WORLD'S TWO LARGEST BIOFUEL-PRODUCING COUNTRIES
- in Brazil in 2008, 54% of sugar cane farmland was devoted to bioethanol production (Source: CGB).
- in the USA in 2009, one third of all corn production will be transformed into bioethanol (106 million tonnes out of a total 324 million. Source: USDA).
Pour aller plus loin
WHERE ARE BIOFUELS PRODUCED?
Production in 2009: 74 million tonnes (Mt)
- North America (56%)
- South America (34%)
- Asia (3%)
- Europe (6%)
- Others (2%).
Production in 2009: 18 Mt
- South America (18%)
- Germany (16%)
- France (12%)
- United States (11%)
- Asia (7%)
- Other European countries (29%)
- Other countries (17%).
Source: IFP (French Petroleum Institute)