jueves, marzo 09, 2006

The end of cheap oil and the impending fuel crisis have convinced the European Union and the United States to seriously tackle their long-standing and worsening “addiction to oil”, not by kicking the habit, but by guzzling biofuels instead. These “carbon neutral” fuels – biodiesel or bioethanol - make even committed environmentalists feel good about getting into their SUVs, as they do not contribute to carbon emissions. Burning biofuels simply sends back into the atmosphere carbon dioxide that the plants took out when they were growing in the field. The snag is that there simply isn’t sufficient arable land on which to grow all the biofuel crops needed to satisfy the voracious appetites of the industrialised nations.

So, the next phase of colonisation has begun. The industrialised countries are looking to the Third World to feed their addiction: the land is there for the taking as is cheap labour, and the environmental damages of large plantations, biofuels extraction and refining can all be outsourced, exactly as they were in the extraction of crude oil. Brazil is already currently the main supplier of bioethanol to the United Kingdom.

Companies dedicated to biodiesel have set their sights on countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, where they can also obtain raw material at competitive prices.

UK-based DI Oils predicted in 2004 that the world market for biodiesel would grow by 14.5 percent annually to 2.79 million tonnes by 2010. The Asia Pacific operations of the company, based in Manila, will provide the Philippine Coconut Authority with the opportunity to meet the surge in biodiesel demand from Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Australia.

DI Oils has fastened on jatropha, a fast-growing, high-yielding tree that can be planted in semi-tropical areas on “wasteland and irrigated with sewerage water”. According to its CEO, the company already has plantations totalling 267 000 Ha in Ghana, Madagascar, South Africa, India and the Philippines, and intends to expand to 9 million ha. The Indian government announced a national biodiesel purchase policy in October 2005 that would enable farmers and biodiesel producers to get a support price of Rs 25 per litre for jatropha oil, and intends to bring one million ha of land under jatropha cultivation to supply blended diesel within the next few years.

Biodiesel has also provided a much-needed outlet for the glut of genetically modified (GM) crops that consumers are rejecting worldwide.

President Lula of Brazil has declared that GM soya is to be used for biofuels and “good soya” for human consumption. Argentina also has plans to transform GM soya into biodiesel.

The biodiesel industry says that for processing biofuels, large refining plants have to be constructed close to agricultural areas or forests, where the raw material is grown. The biodiesel will then have to be transported to filling stations in the same way as oil.

The oil industry will want to maintain control over the distribution of fuels, and will enter into an agreement with these new companies, as in many cases the supply chain can be very complex.


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