Palm oil makes an excellent biodiesel feedstock and global demand for biodiesel is causing ever increasing amounts of tropical rainforest to be cleared for palm plantations. That same demand is driving up the price of palm oil, making new plantations and more clearing all the more likely. While Europe is the largest consumer of Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil for biodiesel production, Australian companies are also using imported palm oil to produce biodiesel.
The biodiesel plant in Darwin run by Natural Fuels uses imported palm oil and its parent company, Natural Fuels Ltd, chaired by the former Liberal Party leader John Hewson, is setting up a big plant in Singapore. Natural Fuels is also planning to build a $30 million biodiesel plant at Port Botany that is to use palm oil. Perth based Stirling Biofuels operates a biodiesel plant in Malaysia that uses palm oil feedstock.
Why is palm oil so popular? Barry Murphy of Natural Fuels told the Sydney Morning Herald:
People are naturally looking to palm oil. It has the highest yield of any of the vegetable oils. You can get 4000 to 5000 litres of oil per hectare per year.
The world is slowly awakening to the impact on rainforests and the environment caused by palm oil plantations. Greenpeace has launched their “Forest Defenders Camp” in the Indonesian province of Riau using photos of orang-tans behind bars and the slogan “Orphaned by Palm Oil companies”.
Google Earth image of Riau province, Sumatra, Indonesia
The UN released a report earlier this year saying that the explosion in palm oil plantations “is now the primary cause of permanent rainforest loss” in Indonesia and Malaysia. About 300,000 hectares of forest were cleared every year in Indonesia to make way for palm oil plantations.
The rate of rainforest destruction and burning of peat lands in Indonesia makes it the third largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions in the world after the US and China. This land clearing, at the present rate, will wipe out the Indonesia’s forests in 20 years.
Once again, if we are going to produce biofuels lets do it sustainability, not just to make a dollar regardless of the lifecycle impact. We certainly should not be causing the clearing of rainforests in other countries to get cheap palm oil and neither should anyone else. If we are going to make a mess lets do it in our own back yard before we do it anywhere else. Actually, instead of messing up our own back yard lets just apply some good old Aussie ingenuity and come up with some great sustainable solutions.