WWF pushes for responsible use of agricultural waste
By Marie-Martine Buckens | Wednesday 20 June 2012
Biofuels produced from agricultural residues offer a more sustainable alternative to fossil fuel and conventional biofuels. They could even help Europe achieve 100% renewable energy use by 2050, provided researchers can determine the volume of such residues that may be used sustainably. This requires further study and a decision on the type of agriculture Europe wishes to promote. These are the main findings of a study conducted by the environmental organisation WWF, with the support of Novozymes, world leader in the production of enzymes for the production of bioethanol.
The study is timely. In the coming weeks (or months), the European Commission has to explain how it plans to include in its low-carbon calculations biofuels produced from agricultural crops, a particularly alarming phenomenon in the developing countries referred to as indirect land use change (ILUC). Biofuels produced from residues – also known as advanced or next-generation biofuels – can be produced on the same land as farm crops, notes the WWF, and the EU should take this into account in its future ILUC policy.
According to the WWF, the use of agricultural residues, especially straw, to produce advanced biofuels could contribute to achievement of the goal of 100% renewable energy sources in the EU in 2050. Using agricultural residues, half of conventional fuels could be replaced by 2030. Also according to the NGO, 20% to 40% of agricultural residues can be exploited sustainably in Europe and their use should escalate from 2020. In 2012, states the WWF, classic production of biodiesel and bioethanol will total 14.1 million tonnes, but their production is detrimental to the environment. “The technology exists to transform agricultural residues into advanced biofuels,” notes Lars Christian Hansen, Europe region head at Novozymes. The WWF’s study, he continues, is a first step. Policy makers now need to support advanced biofuels while guaranteeing their sustainability.
Based on a number of studies, in particular the study by the German institute Öko, the WWF stresses that different factors need to be taken into account to ensure the sustainability of next-generation biofuels. These include impacts on biodiversity, since the removal of agricultural residues can change habitat functions, such as nesting places. The removal of these residues can also impact the humus balance of the soil, in terms of nutrients and the capacity of this humus to capture carbon, and water to prevent erosion.
Using agricultural residues, half of conventional fuels could be replaced by 2030