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Focus on... Biofuels

Biofuels, including bioethanol, biodiesel and biogas, are renewable fuels generally produced from agricultural crops or organic matter such as livestock waste. In this edition, we examine the case for and against existing mainstream biofuel technologies - and highlight some exciting alternatives. With rising oil prices, the debate over the viability of biofuels as an energy source for the future has been heating up. Increasing pressure on water resources, reduction in food production and loss of biodiversity are three objections to biofuel crops that have been cited in recent months. While these concerns must be addressed, the image of vast biofuel plantations causing habitat loss and environmental degradation is not the only vision on offer. Creating a viable biofuel industry, however, takes time and investment and these fuels need to be environmentally and economically sustainable if they are to provide a long-term option. Can biofuel crops with a bad reputation revive themselves - and what are the most compelling options for the future?

Biofuel: silver bullet or fool's gold?

Biofuel: silver bullet or fool's gold?

Tight control of biofuel production will be needed if the poor and the environment are not to be sacrificed in the race to fuel the future.

Date published: November 2006

Biofuel - a fishy business?

Biofuel - a fishy business?

Fish oil and biodiesel from fish processing waste provides a logical source of energy in remote Alaskan communities with no access to power from the national grid. Using locally available fish oils can perhaps even solve a dilemma.

Date published: November 2006

Boom time for biogas

Boom time for biogas

Biogas technology is not new to Nepal, having been available for around 35 years. But as a result of a new programme, increasing numbers of farmers in Nepal, Rwanda and China are enjoying the benefits of biogas.

Date published: November 2006

Brew your own: Argentina's micro-refinery

Brew your own: Argentina's micro-refinery

A new design of miniature biodiesel refinery allows Argentinean farmers to make their own fuel. But there are concerns over the ambitious new law for biofuels and its potential impact on biodiversity and rural livelihoods.

Date published: November 2006

Coconuts - power for the Pacific

Coconuts - power for the Pacific

Coconut oil is now forming a substantial component of the fuel used many minibuses in Port Vila. A new system for extracting the oil from copra by manual press could make oil production a viable business for rural communities. However, new policies for coconut plantation will be needed if large scale use of coconut-based fuel is to become a reality.

Date published: November 2006

Palm oil: deforestation diesel?

Palm oil: deforestation diesel?

Although palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia is projected to increase dramatically in the next few decades, there are still concerns about the environmental sustainability of expansion of the industry.

Date published: November 2006

Better management of wood and wastes

Better management of wood and wastes

Wood fuel gathering and charcoal production contribute to deforestation, together with poor resource management and lack of property rights. Technologies have been developed to improve fuel efficiency and utilise agricultural waste, effectively reducing pressure on wood fuels.

Date published: November 2006

Sorghum: a sweet alternative

Sorghum: a sweet alternative

Sweet sorghum is tolerant to harsh environmental conditions and it is high yielding. In China and India it grows well, replacing failed traditional crops and reviving degraded land - it also provides an income for the rural poor and produces ethanol - making it a viable biofuel.

Date published: November 2006

 

 

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