It’s heralded as the clean-burning alternative to petroleum, but biodiesel’s baggage has made a smooth roll-out seem unlikely.
The challenges come into focus in Southeast Asia, where economic, environmental and industrial concerns find themselves at odds.
In Thailand, where new laws mandate the use of biodiesel, fears are emerging over the effects of increased demand for palm oil, which is a cooking staple in private and commercial kitchens across the country.
Now, with prices for palm oil spiking, government ministers are pondering an export ban, and also the import of 30,000 tons of palm kernel oil to meet growing demand.
A palm oil industry spokesman told the Bangkok Post that the bans would negatively affect local farmers, and called for better management of existing supplies.
In the Philippines, a legislative battle is playing out between biodiesel advocates and detractors.
According to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri claimed last week that oil companies are financing a lobbying campaign against the Arroyo government’s plan create a biodiesel industry around the jatropha plant.
At issue are pending laws that would mandate the use of biodiesel by “transport vehicles,” and concerns that doing so would reduce food production on an island that already is a net food importer.
Boosters claim that the jatropha plant doesn’t require the same sort of high-quality soil conditions and intensive management as food crops.
Critics told the Inquirer that food crops and water supplies in the Philippines are already under pressure, and that biodiesel is a bad investment because it produces less energy than other renewable sources.
“Zubiri: Oil firms funding drive vs biofuels”
Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 16, 2007
“Biodiesel squeezes palm supply”
Bangkok Post, January 16, 2008