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Vegetable Oil Power Stations: Slippery Slope to Environmental Disaster?

By David Holmes on October 30, 2009

There is much controversy surrounding the emergence of vegetable oil as a fuel source for domestic power stations. Blue-NG’s vegetable oil power station in Beckton, East London, has been lauded and derided in equal measure. On the one hand, deriving electricity from vegetable oil is seen as an effective, efficient and environmentally friendly process attracting twice the amount of public funding as that of wind turbines.

On the other, the process of harvesting crops for the production of vegetable oil to be used as a fuel source is often forgotten in terms of its human impact. Biofuelwatch has calculated the land required to harvest sufficient rapeseed oil for one power plant could otherwise feed some 35,000 people annually, which will become a more significant issue in years to come as food poverty worsens.

Vegetable oil power stations burning rapeseed oil are thought to produce more carbon emissions than those burning traditional fossil fuels. Moreover, any vegetable oil power station that uses soya or palm oil over rapeseed oil will produce even higher carbon emissions. A report by Wetlands International suggests 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions are released into the atmosphere for every tonne of palm oil used to create electricity, which is some ten times greater than that of petroleum.

However, rapeseed oil power stations such as Blue-NG can produce around 153,541 MWh of electricity annually, which is sufficient to power some 45,000 homes. There also appears to be confusion over whether burning rapeseed oil as a combined fuel source is actually worse or better for the environment in terms of carbon emissions. What is certain is the opposing views on the subject are similar to many others affecting green energy initiatives, which are by no means gaining in popularity among those in positions of power.