Members and friends are invited to study these policies and provide advice on improvements and additions.
To have the production and use of biofuels sustainably nested within the suite of ecosystem services without compromising others.
Background and rationale
Biofuels are not a homogenous group. Each biofuel technology has different advantages and disadvantages.
Some biofuels have the potential to be energy efficient as well as being renewable, thus reducing reliance on fossil fuel and imported oil. They cannot however be seen as a panacea for our energy hungry society, rather just part of an overall program of sustainability for both transport and stationary energy which will include sources such as pyrolysis, solar, wind and wave.
Many biofuels also promise to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and bring benefits to rural areas providing alternative industries and jobs, and thus retaining population in rural areas. However, considering that a tonne of cellulose yields methanol equivalent to only 150 litres of petrol, it would take all of Australia’s 85 million ha of forest, pasture and cropland, harvested at a very high 6t/ha/yr to replace Australia’s oil and gas consumption with biofuels.
Any government support or mandate for renewable energy should be independent of any one biofuel technology and be based on a broad range of public policy objectives that include adaptation to climate, water security, regional socio-economic viability and catchment health, and importantly, using our land for its special ability to grow food. There are various alternatives when it comes to liquid fuels, the major one being conservation, however we have no alternative sources of food.
The Environmental Farmers Network (EFN) supports the production and use of biofuels as a renewable energy source with careful consideration being given to:
- lifecycle emissions of biofuels
- effect on the environment of producing biofuels - direct or inadvertent detrimental impact on the environment from biofuel production (eg biofuel crops displacing native vegetation or other more productive crops)
- opportunity cost of the foregone alternative uses of the land used for production of biofuels
- impact on water availability for other purposes including environmental flows
- soil ecosystem which depends on the reincorporation of a considerable quantity of organic byproduct from annual and perennial cropping. Over-harvesting of byproducts must be avoided
- sequestering of carbon in the soil which will help to reduce the load in the atmosphere, while other measures are pursued to reduce fossil fuel emissions.
The EFN encourages the production of biofuels from surplus or waste materials such as:
- woody biomass from management and harvest of plantation timber and from timber industry processing. In particular, from farm forestry which is increasing rapidly with a resulting increase in prunings, thinnings and harvest waste
- by-products from broadacre crops grown for food and feed grain
- manure and bedding from intensive animal production
- domestic and industrial waste, and
- potentially from oilseed crops such as canola and mustard where they also perform a plant health function in the broadacre crop rotation.
The EFN does not support those biofuels that:
- result in a net increase in the production and release of greenhouse gases
- divert irrigation water from economically viable sustainable agriculture
- require more energy to produce than they in turn yield
The EFN does not support bioenergy from ethanol at the current time as:
- feedstock used (eg barley, corn) has to be grown on high quality soils, often using scarce water
- amount of energy required as an input is not offset by the energy yield
The EFN does not support the extraction of “waste timber” from native forestry operations. This avoids perpetuating the native logging industry on the grounds of supporting renewable energy, and leaves the timber waste where it functions as habitat and as a regeneration aid
Regarding government legislation, the EFN recommends that:
- The Victorian Government mandate a renewable energy target that is constructed in such a way that energy companies are required to, and are rewarded for, reducing the total carbon and water cost of the energy consumption of Victoria.
- If this is not possible, that the Victorian Government mandate bio energy targets that are driven by wood-based and oilseed based feedstocks.
- The Victorian Government does not mandate ethanol until and unless a reputable scientific organisation such as CSIRO can prove that it is a net positive for climate change adaptation, water yields and energy provision.
- Any legislated bioenergy target be compatible with land management standards managed through an EMS (Environmental Management System).
Issues to consider in choice of feedstock for production of biofuels:
- growing annual crops specially for biofuels will not necessarily be energy efficient or carbon neutral overall
- production of grain for fuel is likely to affect the supply and price of both food grains and feed for
- using water in times of water shortage to grow irrigated crops especially for fuel is unlikely to be an environmentally efficient method of producing energy
- some sources of feedstock for biofuel production are particularly detrimental to the environment eg. palm oil production which is driving large scale destruction of tropical rainforest
- expanding areas for annual crop production will move such activities to more and more marginal lands. There are already significant problems with soil structural decline, nutrient depletion and erosion in our cereal cropping systems. We cannot afford to run down our soil resource to meet a short term energy need. To quote Tad W. Patzek, Univ Berkley after a lot of math to prove the point, "Our planet has zero excess biomass at her disposal."
Management of the biofuel industry should aim to encourage:
- efficiency of production and energy efficiency of the biofuel;
- small scale, decentralised biofuel production, using materials produced close by and with the product also being used close by. This will reduce both monetary cost and emissions from transport of both raw materials and finished product;
- benefits to rural communities from this potentially valuable new industry; and,
- life cycle assessment of the impact of biofuel production
Government support for bioenergy through the use of mandated targets is an opportunity to establish an industry sector that can enable rural Victoria to share in the increased economic strength of the State. Some biofuels may provide fewer public good outcomes than others, especially over the longer term