To: Inquiry into mandatory ethanol and biofuel targets in Victoria

Made: August 2007

Biofuels have the potential to be an energy efficient fuel, as well as being a renewable energy source.  However, it is essential that they be seen as part of the overall program of energy supply, energy use, and energy utility. They cannot be a panacea for our energy hungry society, rather just a small step towards a program of sustainability.

Biofuels have the potential to:

  • reduce reliance on fossil fuels and on imported oil
  • reduce emissions of greenhouse gases
  • bring great benefits to rural areas providing alternative industries and jobs, and thus retaining population in rural areas

The Environmental Farmers Network (EFN) supports the introduction of biofuels as a renewable energy source but is concerned that careful consideration be given to:

  • the lifecycle emissions of biofuels
  • the 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)
  • the opportunity costs of the foregone alternative uses of the land used for their production
  • any emissions associated with preparing land for the production of biofuels

The EFN encourages the production of biofuels from materials which are surplus or waste such as:

    • woody biomass – from plantation and other forestry management and harvest, and from timber industry processing.  In particular, farm forestry is increasing rapidly with a resulting increase in prunings, thinnings and harvest waste
    • waste from broadacre crops grown for food and feed grain
    • manure and bedding from intensive animal production
    • domestic and industrial waste
    • any other suitable and available sources of fuel which may otherwise be dumped

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 livestock
  • 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. We already have 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.
  • a considerable quantity of organic byproduct from annual cropping and perennial cropping is necessary for reincorporation into the soil ecosystem. It would be detrimental to the resilience of our ecosystems to over-harvest byproducts.
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

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