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Friends of the Earth Warns on Biofuels ‘Land Grab’

By Rob Hull on September 3, 2010

In its recent report entitled ‘Africa: Up for Grabs’, Friends of the Earth has called on European Union countries to drop their biofuels targets amid fears that heavy investment in the sector could plunge many more Africans into hunger and poverty.

Furthermore, the charity warns that increasing use of biofuels, which are widely regarded as environmentally friendly alternatives to oil and coal, will cause increased carbon emissions.

The status of biofuels as a green source of energy has long been questioned.

Biofuels are often advertised as ‘carbon neutral’ in so far as emissions are described as being part of the current carbon cycle; specifically, carbon dioxide is released through the burning of biofuels, the original organic materials of which – such as plants and trees – absorbed a comparable amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Several years ago, a UK Government publication claimed that biofuels reduced carbon emissions by 50-60 per cent compared to fossil fuels; however, the harvesting of materials for use as biofuels has caused concern amongst environmental watchdogs.

In the UK, biofuels are becoming more popular for use in domestic central heating systems, with companies such as Econergy and Euroheat, which recently launched the TDA Thermodual boiler, providing a variety of options for energy consumers – but at what cost to foreign nations?

In June, the European Commission outlined a certification scheme designed to ensure that biofuels cut emissions without threatening biodiversity.

Friends of the Earth, however, is calling for EU member states to abandon their aims of producing 10 per cent of all transport fuels from biofuels by 2020 – the extent to which biofuels used in domestic central heating systems affect foreign lands was not made clear in the report.

A food campaigner for Friends of the Earth, Kirtana Chandrasekaran, commented: “The amount of land being taken in Africa to meet Europe’s increasing demand for biofuels is underestimated and out of control”.

Sun Biofuels, a British company farming land in Africa for the biofuels industry, criticised the Friends of the Earth report as “emotional and anecdotal”. CEO of Sun Biofuels, Richard Morgan, added that his company was replacing or reducing illegal tree felling in Tanzania whilst stimulating local economies.