This blog previously relayed the observation that almost all biofuel used today results in more GHG (Green House Gas) emissions than conventional fuel, when one examine current practices from the viewpoint of sustainability, And yet, we learn from Green Car Congress that the Swedish company SEKAB, which delivers about 90% of all ethanol in Sweden for E85 and ED95 (ethanol for heavy-duty vehicles using compression ignition engines), has announced something called “Verified Sustainable Ethanol”.
According to the company and its Brazilian partners, ethanol from Brazilian sugarcane that they distribute will be quality-assured from environmental, climate and social perspectives. This and other such assertions have come about, after the European Commission stated that biofuels need to be sustainable, rather than just renewable. The entire production chain of the biofuel must be analyzed to validate a claim of emissions cuts. The findings of Zah et al. indicate that while production of ethanol from Brazilian sugarcane, in general, result in approximately 40% of the GHG emissions from production of gasoline, the total environmental impact is greater than gasoline (approximately 130%).
“The findings of Zah et al. are striking. Most (21 out of 26) biofuels reduce greenhouse- gas emissions by more than 30% relative to gasoline. But nearly half (12 out of 26) of the biofuels-including the economically most important ones, to include Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.”
Cropland is incapable of absorbing as much carbon as does rain forest or even scrub land. Even venture capitalists like Vinod Khosla are recognizing that, with an increasing call for “a more granular assessment of the benefits and impacts of different biofuels”, the appropriateness of biofuels for the transportation sector now should include an assessment of land use.
SEKAB, together with Brazilian ethanol producers, launched a Sustainable Ethanol Initiative and developed criteria that cover the entire lifecycle of ethanol from the sugarcane fields to its use in flexi-fuel (FFV) cars… In terms of the climate, the demands will result in a reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from farming, production and transport—-i.e., in the field-to-tank component of the lifecycle—by at least 85% compared with gasoline.
Let’s hope that this will be something more than “pencil-whipping”. The GCC post notes, “An independent international verification company will audit all production units twice a year to ensure the established criteria are met.”
The requirements also have zero tolerance for child labor, slave labor and the destruction of rain forests. There are also requirements concerning working conditions, labor laws and wages.
Die back of the Amazon rainforest (approx 50 years, large uncertainty) is one of the major tipping point. Global warming and deforestation will probably reduce rainfall in the region by up to 30 percent. Lengthening of the dry season, and increases in summer temperatures would make it difficult for the forest to re-establish. Models project die back of the Amazon rain forest to occur under three to four degrees Celsius global warming within fifty years. Even land-use change alone could potentially bring forest cover to a critical threshold.
Sugarcane ethanol is much less off the scale than ethanol from corn (for which one can find a number of policy wankers to extol the virtue of “cruise on booze“), so Verified Sustainable (Brazilian sugarcane) Ethanol might be possible. On the other hand, the attitude of Business As Usual and Above All Else is other than exclusive to American politics. For instance, the Guardian reports that there have been fears expressed about survival of the Amazon rain forest with the resignation of Marina Silva, Brazil’s environment minister.
Environmentalists saw Silva, a 50-year-old native of the Brazilian Amazon, as a key ally in the fight against the destruction of the country’s rainforest, 20% of which they believe has been destroyed… In her resignation letter to president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Tuesday, Silva said her decision was the result of the “difficulties” she was facing in “pursuing the federal environmental agenda”. She said her efforts to protect the environment had faced “growing resistance … [from] important sectors of the government and society.”