What is the problem with palm oil in biofuel?

Palm oil has long been used to produce biodiesel as an alternative to fossil fuels but this supposedly environmentally friendly alternative has become problematic in recent years. Not only is it proving to not be as good for the planet as previously believed, the farming of it has seriously affected indigenous people in the areas causing a human rights concern. The European Union are being pressured to take action and have approved draft legislation to do so. Alternatives are still being sought.

Environmental Concerns

Although biodiesel was intended to lower carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, a recent study by the European Commission found that greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil-derived biodiesel are potentially three times higher than from normal diesel engines due to indirect causes. A major cause is the deforestation which occurs to make room to farm palm oil. Tropical area deforestation has a huge impact on the biodiversity of the area and clearing woodlands and peatlands releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As such, using palm oil biodiesel creates more problems than it was intended to solve.

Human Rights

It isn’t just animal life and the environment palm oil farming affects either. Many of the areas where the farming takes place are home to indigenous peoples who are either forced out of the forest altogether or are pushed closer together in shrinking areas of forest which don’t have sufficient resources to support that many people. As an example of the scale of the problem, Franky Samperante, a founder of the indigenous peoples’ organisation Pusaka, said the Indonesian government had granted concessions to more than 50 companies to open plantations on 1.2m hectares of land claimed by local communities.

Calls for Action

To tackle this problem, groups like Pusaka are lobbying the EU to take action to create sustainable supply chains and establish a sustainable trade ombudsmen to look into reports of human rights and environmental violations, and for companies to adopt binding human rights policies rather than voluntary actions. Representatives from Malaysia and Indonesia are highly critical of the potential plans to ban or restrict palm oil based biofuels as this could have a very serious effect on their economy with Malaysia’s plantations minister Mah Siew Keong even calling it a “crop apartheid”. Although EU ministers approved an initial draft agreement to move towards banning palm oil in biofuel, a final agreement has yet to be reached.

Although some parts of the world are using soy oil as an alternative to palm oil in biofuels, this isn’t a good solution as the yield per hectare is lower than with palm oil. The race for a truly sustainable environmentally friendly fuel is still very much on. Anyone involved in developing or producing all types of fuel need good reliable data to work with so Ex~I Flow Measurement provide reliable, accurate and easy to use flow measuring equipment to support this industry. To speak to someone about how we can help you, call +44 (0)1243 554920 or contact us here.