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Biofuels: What Impact on Crop Protection and Seeds Now?

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Not so long ago biofuels were being heralded as a 'carbon neutral' solution to climate change and escalating oil prices. All sectors concerned with crop production saw opportunities for a new market in fuel and energy feedstocks and also a chance to re-establish a more favourable position in the eyes the public. In its 2006 Biofuels Strategy paper, the European Commission estimated that EU produced biodiesel and bioethanol would be competitive with diesel and petrol derived from oil at 60/barrel and 90/barrel, respectively. However, although the price of oil has continued to rise, climbing well passed $100/barrel in 2008, a succession of high profile life cycle analyses have led to confusion over the true carbon footprint of biofuels. Earlier studies also raised doubts. For instance, Patzek calculated that if the US were to meet its 2012 target for replacing gasoline with bioethanol this would at best be equivalent to gasoline savings from the nation inflating its car tyres to the proper pressure! Furthermore, as prices of food commodities have also soared, the media have firmly pointed the finger at biofuels as being responsible for initiating the global food crisis. Yet biofuels still only account for around 2% of the world's grain production and less than 3% of global transport fuel supplies. In July 2008, the Gallagher Review, a report commissioned by the UK government to investigate the sustainability of biofuel production, was published. The report concluded that a sustainable biofuels industry was possible, but that growing crops for biofuels must avoid using land which could be used for food production. Idle and marginal land, and the use of wastes and residues, or aquatic systems using algae must be targeted. Ensuring a positive contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction were also noted as issues with which to be reckoned. In this article, the current status of biofuels and the crops used for feedstock production are reviewed to set the scene for more detailed discussion of the impacts on crop production and protection in future articles.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2008

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