Waste the Answer to Biofuel’s

Ethical Dilemma Say Researchers

Waste to Biofuel Ethical Dilemma Nuffield Council14 April 2011

Second generation biofuels that use waste as a feedstocks could be the answer to ‘unethical practices’ that are encouraged by current policies on biofuels, according a report by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

The UK based Nuffield Council on Bioethics examines ethical issues raised by new developments in biology and medicine, and in 2009 established a working party to examine the ethical issues raised by biofuels. The report – Biofuels: ethical issues – has been published recently following an 18 month inquiry.

According to the report policies such as the European Renewable Energy Directive (RED) are particularly weak when it comes to protecting the environment, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding human rights violations in developing countries.

Critically, the report also claims that such policies include few incentives for the development of new biofuel technologies that could help avoid such problems.

“Biofuels are one of the only renewable alternatives we have for transport fuels such as petrol and diesel, but current policies and targets that encourage their uptake have backfired badly,” said Professor Joyce Tait, who led the inquiry.

Tait cites the rapid expansion of biofuels production in the developing world as a cause of deforestation and displacement of indigenous people, and adds that a more sophisticated strategy that considers the wider consequences of biofuel production is needed.

However, the report goes on to say that research into a second generation of biofuels has the potential to provide feedstocks that:

  • Do not compete with food
  • Have a high energy yield with low inputs of water, land and fertiliser etc.
  • Do not negatively affect the environment or local populations
  • Can be produced in sufficient quantities to allow economically viable biofuels production.

biofuels waste research ethicsNew research

According to the authors of the report, a diverse and active field of research trying to meet these goals is rapidly emerging, with full lignocellulosic conversion of wastes among the most promising candidates.

“Researchers are developing new types of biofuels that need less land, produce fewer greenhouse gases and do not compete with food, but commercial-scale production is many years away,” said Professor Ottoline Leyser, Cambridge University and one of the authors of the report.

The report recommends that there should be a set of overarching ethical conditions for all biofuels produced in and imported into Europe, including:

  1. Biofuels development should not be at the expense of human rights
  2. Biofuels should be environmentally sustainable
  3. Biofuels should contribute to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
  4. Biofuels should adhere to fair trade principles
  5. Costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way.
“There is a duty to develop biofuels that comply with our ethical principles,” added Tait. “Governments should incentivise the development of new types of biofuels that need less land and produce fewer greenhouse gases, for example by creating research funding programmes or encouraging public-private partnerships.”
Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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