According to the U.S. EPA, sustainability is meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Indirect Land Use Change - Since the publication of a controversial study last year (Searchinger et al 2008), a new term has entered the policy debate around biofuels—indirect land use change (ILUC). The debate is focused on whether the carbon intensity of fuels like ethanol and Biodiesel can or should include a penalty for theoretical indirect, economic and environmental effects. Land use is just one of many indirect effects that could also increase the greenhouse gas emissions of different fuels, including gasoline.
What is the Theory? - Indirect land use change theory uses speculative models and assumptions in an attempt to blame the development of biofuel crops for deforestation in Developing Nations. According to the theory, corn used for ethanol displaces other crops, like soybeans. This in turn, causes farmers in other countries, such as Brazil, to cut down rainforests to grow soybeans and fill this demand.
What are the flaws in the theory? - The theory of ILUC is built on two basic assumptions. The first is corn used for ethanol and other crops used for biofuel production will lead to large decreases in American grain and commodity export and second; biofuel production will increase deforestation in the Amazon. Both have been argued to be empirically false. Since 1998, corn exports have remained at 1.5-2.5 billion bushels sold abroad each year and soybean exports reached record levels last year. In addition, according to the National Institute of Space Research, deforestation in the Amazon has declined sharply just as American biofuels production doubled. In 2004, 10,588 square miles of the Amazon was deforested and in 2008, that number dropped to 4,621 square miles.
Below you will find links to articles,interviews and other resources related to the iLUC policy debate.
John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia - Published a report severely criticizes the Searchinger study, that opened the ongoing debate over indirect land use changes (ILUC) resulting from biofuels production. John A. Mathews and Hao Tan, take issue with the methodology and assumptions used by Tim Searchinger and others in the study, Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land Use Change See Above, which was published in February, 2008.
The Round Table for Sustainable Biofuels - The RSB hosted a series of workshops to discuss the impacts of iLUC. The following report reviews the current effort made worldwide to address this issue. A description of land-use concepts is first provided followed by a classification of ILUC sources. Then, a discussion on the implications of including ILUC emissions in the GHG balance of biofuel pathways and a review of methodologies being developed to quantify indirect land-use change are presented. The question of methodological choices in LCA to account for ILUC is adressed. The approaches to account for this effect in carbon reporting initiatives are discussed and finally, recommendations and further research work are described.
Bruce E. Dale, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the DOE Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at Michigan State University presented the following report in September 2009. Professor Dale's findings are much to the contrary of those put forth in the Searchinger document that kciked off the iLUC debate world wide.
Timothy D. Searchinger, Princeton University – Published a set of papers defining the problem of “Biofuels and Indirect Land Use Change” these papers set of a chain of events that directly affected biofuel related legislation, and the biodiesel industry as a whole.
Food vs. Fuel - is the dilemma regarding the risk of diverting farmland or crops for biofuels production in detriment of the food supply on a global scale.
What is the theory? -The "food vs. fuel" or "food or fuel" debate is international in scope, and implies the use of arable farm land to produce biofuel or energy feedstock negatively effects the global food supply and leads to increased costs world wide. their arguments on all sides of this issue. While there is discussion on both sides of this issue, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence, from reports and scientific studies to the testimony of experts in energy and agriculture that states the rising cost of energy is at the root of these problems, not biofuel production.
What are the flaws in the theory? - Starting around January 2007, food price increases occurred seemingly in tandem with advancing corn prices and growth in U.S. ethanol production. The concurrence of these events led to speculation that increased ethanol and biofuel production was a major driving factor in higher corn and feedstock prices, and in turn, higher food prices. While the case can be made that expanded ethanol and biofuel production is a minor factor in increased spending on food, additional food spending increases were more than offset by savings resulting from the inclusion of more biofuel in the U.S. fuel supply.
John M. Urbanchuk Director, LECG LLC – According to his analysis of food, energy and corn prices, “rising energy prices had a more significant impact on food prices than did corn.” In fact, the report notes rising energy prices have twice the impact on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food than does the price of corn. LECG LLC Food Price Analysis
Grocery Manufacturers of America - A coalition of industrial food producers and other special interest groups that launched a campaign to discredit the biofuels industry in the eyes of the public and policymakers. The effort, spearheaded by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, and a media campaign proposed by Glover Park Group was made public by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The GMA represents more than 300 food, beverage and consumer household goods companies in the United States. Other groups backing the effort included the American Bakers Association, the American Meat Institute, Environmental Working Group, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Council of Chain Restaurants, the National Pork Producers Council, and the Snack Food Association, among others.
Six U.S. senators held a press conference in Washington D.C., on May 22 to combat the disinformation campaign: Sens. Grassley; Kit Bond, R-Mo.; Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; John Thune, R- S.D.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; and Ken Salazar, D-Colo. “The Grocery Manufacturers Association has an obvious self-interest in launching this campaign,” Grassley said. “They need to blame someone for high grocery bills, but they’ve aimed their fire at a false target.” Grassley later requested a meeting with 15 chief executive officers of GMA member-companies but subsequently canceled the meeting when only one CEO was willing to defend the group’s actions.
Biodiesel and Renewable Diesel – Today there are more than one diesel alternative available to American consumers. While these alternatives all have specific benefits, there are also drawbacks associated with each. It is important to know and understand the differences between these fuels, in order to avoid confusion and to properly represent sustainable, community-based Biodiesel. First, let’s go over the fuel types and there definitions.
What is Biodiesel? – Biodiesel is defined as a fuel comprised of mono-alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids derived from vegetable oils or animal fats that meets the fuel specification requirements of ASTM D6751. Produced in free-standing refining facilities.
What is Renewable Diesel? – Renewable Diesel is defined in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) as liquid fuel produced from biomass that meets the fuel specification requirements of ASTM D975 (petroleum diesel fuel) or ASTM D396 (home heating oil). Produced in free-standing facilities.
What is Co-Processed Renewable Diesel? - Co-Processed Renewable Diesel is defined as Renewable diesel that is produced when an oil company adds small amounts vegetable oils or animal fats to the traditional petroleum refining process when producing diesel fuel (co- processing). This fuel is produced in existing oil refineries. There are subtle as well as obvious differences between these fuels and the benefits and drawbacks they represent to our environment and communities.
For more information on the diesel alternatives available today refer to the resources below:
The Debate on GMO - Many of the first use oil feedstocks used for Biodiesel production in the United States are genetically modified. Before we can address the debate on the use of GMO feedstocks in U.S. Biodiesel it is important to understand what GMO means.
What is GMO? - A GMO is any living organism - plant or animal - that has genetically altered genes, resulting from the combination of DNA molecules from more than one species. This process is called genetic engineering, and is an example of biotechnology. While this may sound like the plot of a science fiction film, this technology is commonly used in agriculture for food, feed and fuel in this country. Despite strong opposition from organizations world wide, many food crops have already been genetically modified. Currently, the majority of genetically modified food crops are grown in the United States (it is important to realize that many European countries refuse to import GMOs as they feel their safety has not been fully verified).
What are the claims? – Many scientists and advocacy groups believe interfering with Nature, can lead to dangerous side effects. Some are concerned that moving genes from one species to another will lead to the transfer of allergens. For example individuals who have a dangerous allergy to peanuts may have adverse reaction to a GMO that has ‘borrowed’ DNA from a peanut. Also, because of the infancy of the technology there is no research on the long-term effects of GMO on human beings and the environment.
Many experts also fear that putting insect and herbicide resistant genes in crops will cause some plants to be unaffected by the chemicals, leading to the formation of "superbugs" and "superweeds" that can no longer be effectively controlled by pesticides. This resistance to chemicals combined with the wide-spread use of a single strain of crop could have a devastating impact on biodiversity across the country.
Probably the most controversial aspect of the GMO argument is the labeling or, lack of proper labeling. Since processed foods and beverages are laden with high fructose corn syrup, soy byproducts and cottonseed oil (the majority of which may contain genetically altered crops), most American consumers consume GMOs without knowingit; currently, labeling of GMOs in the U.S. is completely voluntary, and is not regulated in any form. Many people believe consumers have a right to know what is in their food and have lobbied for mandatory labeling. Other experts and advocacy groups are calling for a halt in the use of GMOs in the food supply altogether until increased testing is done to ensure the safety of communities and the environments.
Where does the SBA stand? – The Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance believes the use of GMO feedstocks should be avoided and if Genetically Modified Organisms are used as feedstock the product must be labeled as such to provide complete transparency to the consumer.
Environmental and Safety Resources
In addition to environmental and safety issues, the use of GMO has severe social implications and it is argued that GMO technology has aided in the corporate centralization of a large portion of agriculture on this country, and the bankruptcy of small scale family farms nation-wide. Below are resources related to the social and political relevance of GMO use.