January 5, 2006

Energy Expert Says Crops Seen Inefficient as Biofuel

OXFORD -- Waste products make a better biofuel than traditional British crops such as rapeseed and grain because of the energy it takes to grow them, a former chairman of Shell Trading and Transport said on Thursday.

"The attractive thing about waste is that it represents a problem," Lord Oxburgh told reporters at the annual Oxford Farming Conference.

He said rapeseed and grain required fertiliser inputs, effectively negating much of the savings they might otherwise provide when changed into biofuels.

"You really have got to think very hard about the amount the energy that goes into producing your biofuel," he said.

"I think if they (British farmers) grow the same crops in the same way, it probably won't work," he told reporters.

Lord Oxburgh pointed to the production of ethanol from waste straw in Canada as one example of a project which was energy efficient and had environmental benefits.

By way of contrast, he said the most expensive method was being employed in the United States using maize, which consumes an enormous amount of energy before being turned into fuel.

"You put in nearly as much energy into producing energy than you get out of it. It doesn't actually make a lot of sense," he said.

Britain announced late last year plans to increase use of biofuels over the next few years and British farmers hope that domestic rapeseed oil will be used to produce biodiesel and surplus wheat to make bioethanol.

Lord Oxburgh said if Britain imported biofuels from palm oil produced in recently cleared rainforests in southeast Asia there could be adverse environmental impacts.

"There isn't one solution for the whole world," he said.