» 10/10/2007, 00.00
World grain supply not enough to produce bio fuels
The use of cereals and palm oil in producing bio fuels is forcing a price hike on basic foods. Non edible plants now being tested. Meanwhile Beijing sets out plans for renewable energy sources, even if in the short term more expensive than coal.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – China wants to double its use of renewable energy by 2020, such as hydro energy, wind power and solar energy as well as biofuels by increasing their extraction from cereals and vegetable oils. But the high costs are presenting obstacles.
After an initial enthusiasm the world has become aware that it is not capable of producing sufficient grain to feed its population and produce biofuels. The boom in biofuels in recent years has led to sharp rice in world grain prices, with widespread grave social repercussions. David Jackson, of Lmc International Ltd London, estimates that by 2015 a further 100 million hectares of crop production (half the size of Indonesia) will be needed to meet just 5% of vehicle consumption. But to obtain this, entire forests would be decimated.
Sugar cane produces more ethanol, but it requires a lot of water in a world suffering from drought. The use of palm oil to produce fuel has resulted in two thirds price hike in recent years, bringing it to 735 dollars a tonne, which crude oil costs 593 dollars per tonne. Thus many plantation projects particularly in Asian have been abandoned.
Now there are plans to use non edible oil plants in the production of biofuels such as jatropha, the leaves seeds and fruit of which are toxic. The British company D1 Oils plc has planted 175 thousand hectares of Jatropha in Africa as well as in India and China.
Beijing has also set out on the arduous journey of renewable energy sources. “So far there is not profit” – explains Zhou Fengqi, Chief of China’s renewable energy programme – but there is “the will to become a leader in clean energy in the future”. This explains why projects are financed by leading companies in the energy sector. In order to extract methane gas from the coal mines and biofuels from the vegetable plantations, over the next few years China Power, the leading electricity supplier will invest 4 billion dollars and the petrol giant PetroChina will spend 10 billion Yuan.
Yet coal, although a major pollutant remains the cheapest of all fuels and covers over 80% of the countries energy demand. China Resources Power will invest between 3 and 5 million Yuan by 2010 in wind power, but exploiting wind power costs three times more than a coal station.
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