EEP European Environmental Press

Eliminate biofuel or not?


Source: EEP European Environmental Press

Last summer, the island of Lindau on Lake Constance was - for the 57th time - a meeting place for young and talented intellectuals. Coming from all over the world, the 567 young researchers met 18 Nobel prize-winners and representatives of various well-known university departments.

This year, medicine was the main theme, but numerous medical biologists and chemists were also present since the results of their researches are often applicable to the field of medicine.

The participants were selected by country according to strict criteria; normally, a young researcher will only have one chance of participating in the forum. But their research fields are sometimes so specific that it may be difficult for them to relate to what is discussed at Lindau. The Nobel prize-winners were free to choose their subject, even if it was controversial.

The German Hartmut Michel, professor at the Max Planck Institute, laureate in 1988 for his work on photosynthesis, proposed that the EU regulation imposing the use of at least 5.75% biofuel by 2010 should be scrapped. 'Photosynthesis is a very inefficient process. In intense light the losses are significant. At the end of the day, less than 1% of the sun's light is stored in the form of biomass.

'For its production, harvesting and treatment, numerous traditional sources of energy are necessary. So much so that biofuel is anything but neutral in carbon emissions. To supply all Germany's energy needs, planting the whole country with first-generation plants would not be enough. With second-generation plants 57% of the area would be adequate.' 'For the production of bioethanol, 80-88% of the biofuel produced is used in growing and harvesting the plants, in the distillation of the alcohol, and in other chemical processes,' explains Michel.

'If the energy used for its production comes from oil, there is no reduction in carbon emissions at all,' he continues. 'It is mad to convert wood into biofuel. It is better to use it for heating houses. That is the way to save lots of oil.'

It should be noted that palm oil and soya bean oil are much more energy efficient than plants cultivated in Europe. The young researchers criticised Hartmut Michel for only putting forward his ideas at an intellectual forum rather than airing them in the political arena. Given his status as a Nobel prize-winner, the public authorities would not be able to ignore them. 

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