martes, abril 25, 2006



Given that the countries which have ratified the Kyoto Protocol have to fulfill certain obligations in relation to CO2 emissions, and that in other international forums they having committed to replace 20% of gasoline and diesel with other sustainable sources by the year 2020 (this is the case of countries members of the European Union), a series of industries have appeared, consultants and specialized firms working to convert these obligations into business.

What is foreseen for the future is that even though fossil fuels will slowly be replaced by other forms of energy the oil industry will continue to play a central role in its substitution, and the use of the infrastructure that they have today with some adaptations, for example in the distribution of fuels for vehicles and other forms of transport that require this form of energy.

Identified as alternatives to the motorized transport are the following forms of fuel: Natural gas, hydrogen, bio fuels, biomass liquid fuels (BTL) and liquid gas.


Various European countries have established goals that increasing use biofuels as a substitute to gasoline and diesel.

Biofuels include ethanol and biodiesel that are obtained from conventional agricultural crops such as sugar cane, cereals and oilseeds.

The European Union has established that by the year 2010, 6% of fuels will be biofuels and hopes that by 2020 the percentage will increase to 8%.

However it is unlikely that Europe will dedicate its soils to the growth of these types of crops.

In this new world scenario, the Third World Countries are playing an important role: they will provide the land and their fertility, cheap labour and will retain all environmental effects caused by large plantations from which the biofuels and refining.

In the same manner as occurs with the oil industry, the increasing European demand for biofuels means that countries of the Third World become the sources of supply of this new industry.

In effect currently the main supplier of bioethanol to the United Kingdom is Brazil.

Companies dedicated to the business of biodiesel have placed their sights on Latin American, African, Asian and Pacific countries, since they consider that these countries can obtain raw material at competitive prices. According to declarations made by the CEO of the DI Oils, they are working with plantations of crops known as Jatropha for the production of biodiesel from Ghana to the Philippines, passing through India, Madagascar and South Africa. Up till now they have established 267.000 Ha and have the intention of expanding to 9 million Ha in the future.

According to the British Crop Protection Council (BCPC) the use transgenic crops for the biofuel industry will be inevitable.

Currently President Lula of Brazil has declared transgenic soya to be used for biofuels and good soya for human consumption. Argentina is also advancing plans to transform transgenic soya into biodiesel.

The industry considers the for the processing of biofuels, large refining plants need to be constructed close to agricultural areas or forests which is where the raw material is found. This will depend on whether the biofuel is sold in its pure form or as a mixture. Generally biofuels are mixed with gasoline or conventional diesel. The forms of transport are similar to those used in the oil industry.

It is predicted that the oil industry with the aim of maintaining control over the distribution of fuels, will enter an agreement with these new companies since in many cases the production chain can be very complex.

To refine biodiesel a transesterification method is needed via a catalytic breaking of the acid oily chain of crude oil to transform it into alcohol ester (biodiesel) and glycerin.


Apparently this is a business in which everybody wins. The European emissions of CO2 decreases, third world countries increase their exports increasing the quality of life of rural populations.

However the reality is different.

In relation to climate change, it is said that during the growth of the crop, these absorb CO2. This is true only in relation to what was growing before the plantation was established. Since the industry has plans of growing exponentially, it is possible that they occupy primary or secondary forested areas, as already occurs with the plantations of soy in Argentina (where slowly forests of el Chaco have been displaced), Paraguay (where soy has replaced Pantanal, Atlantic Forest and Chaco areas) and even more dramatically in Brazil where Amazon forests, Pantanal, Atlantic forests have been replaced by soy. In this case the CO2 balance is negative.

On the other hand the moment in which the biodiesel is burnt CO2 is regenerated as product of the combustion.

Additionally other green house gases are generated as a product of the crop itself, the refining and distribution of the fuel. Therefore we can say that the use of biofuels generates CO2 and other green house gases.

In relation to the benefits to the producers of the raw material these can be extremely negative.

Firstly we have the destruction of forest and other original vegetation, as has been seen, but if we include the mass expansion of these crops it could threaten food sovereignty of local populations, because they would stop producing food crops for the population with the aim of producing "clean fuels" for European countries.

Argentina for example has planned to increase the production of soya to 100 million tons, which implies a huge environmental and social cost to the Argentinean people, such as the displacement from rural lands, growing deforestation and desertification of soils and therefore greater hunger and social inequity.

Large scale agriculture, such as is needed to comply with the demand for biofuels is highly dependant of oil derivates which apart from producing CO2 emissions are highly contaminant.

The predictions for Brazil are alarming, since this country could become the world leader in the substitution of fossil fuels for sources of renewable energy, with all the impacts this implies. Even though in Brazil biofuels have been obtained from sugar cane the increase expansion of soy (transgenic?) will make the substitution of this crop inevitable.

Recently the Spanish government of Zapatero announced that Repsol will install a biodiesel plant in Leon. It is predicted that the raw material will be obtained from oily crops and will come from regions where labour and land is cheap and where transgenic crops are permitted. This is in the Southern Hemisphere.

To look for solutions to the current energy model, it is not enough to think of technological solution or substitute one source of energy for another, but instead we need to think of new sustainable decentralized and just societies.


Grupo de Reflexión Rural. 2005. Argentina
Energy Institute. Petroleum Review. Suplemento Especial sobre nuevos combustibles. Septiembre 2005.
ASAJA Leon. 2005. 'Aquejados por la fiebre del biodiesel'. El anuncio de Zapatero de traer de la manos de Repsol una planta de biodiesel a Leon ha generado no pocas expectativas dentro y fuera del mundo agrario.


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