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Chatham House report raises concerns over increased UK biofuel use

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to a recent report from Chatham House, the increased use of biofuels in the UK is a major cause for concern.

Since 2008, when the Renewable Transport Fuel obligation was introduced, UK fuel suppliers have been required by the government to add a growing proportion of sustainable materials into the petrol and diesel supply. Now, EU regulations dictate that biofuel must account for at least 5% of the UK’s transport fuel.

However, research carried out for Chatham House suggests that production at the 5% level is likely to cost UK motorists an extra £ 460 million/y (US$ 707 million/y). This is because biofuels contain less energy by volume than fossil fuels, requiring substantially more frequent refuelling. The additional cost to businesses is estimated at £ 322 million/y.

Furthermore, an additional EU target to supply 10% of transport energy from renewables by 2020 will exacerbate this issue further. The Chatham House report has suggested that additional costs to motorists at this level will be circa £ 1.3 billion/y. 

Concerns have also been raised in regards to the true environmental impact of biofuels. Although it is widely accepted that biofuels reduce road transport emissions, it is less widely accepted that the production of biofuels themselves is similarly environmentally sound. Increasingly, biofuel production is taking place on newly cleared land. The pollution generated from forest clearance is considered by some to dramatically outweigh the greenhouse gas savings made from their use as a fuel.

Furthermore, taking land out of production in order to grow oil for fuel could lead to detrimental effects on food security, and consequently to volatile food prices in the world’s poorest nations.

The European Biodiesel Board (EBB), which represents the industry in the EU, has acknowledged the Chatham House report, stating awareness of the problems caused by the EU mandate. However, it remains adamant that biofuels have many positives.

Edited from various sources by Emma McAleavey.

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