Call for sustainable fuel certification

Envirofuel celebrates its first anniversary on the 1st of January 2008. In the previous year I’ve spend countless hours reading, learning and writing about sustainable mobility and one of the things that really worries me is the sustainability of the currently available biofuels.

Don’t get me wrong, I support first and second generation biofuels. They are a necessary stepping stone to the third and fourth generations that will play a role in the post-oil future of transport. What I disagree with are first and second generation biofuels that are produced with no regard for their life-cycle environmental impact. Why produce a fuel that does more damage to the environment than the the fuel it replaces? That just doesn’t pass the common sense test, especially when Government subsidies are required to make production viable.

I know, I know, Governments, particularly in Europe and the US are mandating biofuel use. That doesn’t mean the likes of corn-based ethanol or palm-based biodiesel are sustainable. It just means Governments are acting on popular opinion, limited knowledge and in the interests of the vocal groups within their populations. Unfortunately that’s what Governments do.

To combat this seemingly senseless progression towards unsustainable biofuels I propose the development of a global certification system for sustainable fuels. All fuels, not just biofuels. This certification system needs to be realistic and unbiased in its assessment of any fuel and it needs to assess the complete life-cycle of the fuel including its impact on people as well as the environment.

Realism would demand the assessment criteria be made more rigorous as technology progresses in a similar manner to vehicle emissions laws. However, I see no reason why current fuels should not have to meet the following criteria before they can be labeled as sustainable:

  • be made from renewable sources or waste;
  • produce less carbon emissions through its complete production and use life-cycle than the oil-based fuel it replaces ;
  • not be made from products that would otherwise be made into food;
  • not disadvantage the population where the feedstock is grown and the fuel produced; and
  • not use large quantities of water during feedstock growth or fuel production;

I believe that any fuel producer that meets these criteria deserves to be rewarded for their efforts. They would be entitled to label their product as a sustainable fuel with a sustainable fuel logo and use that logo for marketing purposes.

Meeting these criteria is easier said than done and I suspect there would be few fuels available today that could boast of meeting all these criteria unless they are produced efficiently from the waste of unrelated industries. Still, you have to start somewhere and the sooner the world can put some realism and perspective into the production and use of fuels the better.

An independent global not-for-profit organisation will be required to implement this certification system. It should not be formed or funded by interested parties trying to justify why their fuel is sustainable. It should initially funded by the likes of the United Nations and become self funding through charging fees for memberships and certification activities.

What do you think? Am I on the right track? Am I dreaming?

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