D1 oils says Jatropha is different in Bali

D1 Oils is saying that biodiesel from Jatropha is different from biodiesel derived from other plant sources at the WTO meeting in Bali,and that not all biodiesel should be tarred with the same brush by NGOs, according to Biofuel Review.

There’s a lot to be said for the D1 Oils business approach which seems to be based around free informed consent with growers, which may be at odds with other more unscrupulous producers. And if the D1 approach, which is to be integrated from the soil to the tank pays off perhaps it will be a model so compelling that other firms will follow it. One dis advantage of the D1 approach is that the firm is tied to Jatopha for a large part of its production. One big big advantage though is that because it is integrated it can capture value at a number of points along the chain from planting and harvesting Jatropha to refining and potentially blending.

Karl Watkin Founder and Non-Executive Director of D1 Oils said:

“Environmental and development NGOs are right to be critical of soya and palm that are produced unsustainably in areas such as Brazil and Indonesia”, said Watkin. “There’s no point in an energy crop that worsens the problem by destroying forest or grassland. Because these attacks don’t differentiate the sustainable biofuel crops like jatropha from the less sustainable like soya and palm, the NGO campaigns are undermining the industry as a whole. We are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

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3 Responses to D1 oils says Jatropha is different in Bali

  1. Graham Prince 28 February, 2008 at 8:41 am #


    I’m Comms Director at D1 Oils plc in the UK and I’ve been reading your blog for a while. As you know from the above, D1 is producing biodiesel from jatropha and we are obviously concerned about the current trend in media coverage on the sector to see all biofuels as equally bad.

    Our Chairman, Lord Oxburgh, formerly Chairman of Shell, put a piece in the UK Guardian newspaper this morning commenting on a recent article by the environmentalist George Monbiot, who went so far as to claim that only biodiesel made from used chip fat was sustainable.

    Take a look at both pieces. This debate is hotting up in the UK as our we get our first national 2.5% biofuels blend at the pump from April.


    George Monbiot
    The Guardian,
    Tuesday February 12 2008
    Now they might start sitting up. They wouldn’t listen to the environmentalists or even the geologists. Can governments ignore the capitalists? A report published last week by Citibank, and so far unremarked on by the media, proposes “genuine difficulties” in increasing the production of crude oil, “particularly after 2012″. Though 175 big drilling projects will start in the next four years, “the fear remains that most of this supply will be offset by high levels of decline”. The oil industry has scoffed at the notion that oil supplies might peak, but “recent evidence of failed production growth would tend to shift the burden of proof on to the producers”, as they have been unable to respond to the massive rise in prices. “Total global liquid hydrocarbon production has essentially flatlined since mid 2005 at just north of 85m barrels per day.”
    The issue is complicated, as ever, by the refusal of the Opec cartel to raise production. What has changed, Citibank says, is that the non-Opec countries can no longer answer the price signal. Does this mean that oil production in these nations has already peaked? If so, what do our governments intend to do?
    Nine months ago, I asked the British government to send me its assessments of global oil supply. The results astonished me: there weren’t any. Instead it relied exclusively on one external source: a book published by the International Energy Agency. The omission became stranger still when I read this book and discovered that it was a crude polemic, dismissing those who questioned future oil supplies as “doomsayers” without providing robust evidence to support its conclusions. Though the members of Opec have a powerful interest in exaggerating their reserves in order to boost their quotas, the IEA relied on their own assessments of future supply.
    Last week I tried again, and I received the same response: “The government agrees with IEA analysis that global oil (and gas) reserves are sufficient to sustain economic growth for the foreseeable future.” Perhaps it hasn’t noticed that the IEA is now backtracking. The Financial Times says the agency “has admitted that it has been paying insufficient attention to supply bottlenecks as evidence mounts that oil is being discovered more slowly than once expected … natural decline rates for discovered fields are a closely guarded secret in the oil industry, and the IEA is concerned that the data it currently holds is not accurate.” What if the data turns out to be wrong? What if Opec’s stated reserves are a pack of lies? What contingency plans has the government made? Answer comes there none.
    The European commission, by contrast, does have a plan, and it’s a disaster. It recognises that “the oil dependence of the transport sector … is one of the most serious problems of insecurity in energy supply that the EU faces”. Partly in order to diversify fuel supplies, partly to cut greenhouse gas emissions, it has ordered the member states to ensure that by 2020 10% of the petroleum our cars burn must be replaced with biofuels. This won’t solve peak oil, but it might at least put it into perspective by causing an even bigger problem.
    To be fair to the commission, it has now acknowledged that biofuels are not a green panacea. Its draft directive rules that they shouldn’t be produced by destroying primary forest, ancient grasslands or wetlands, as this could cause a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Nor should any biodiverse ecosystem be damaged to grow biofuels.
    It sounds good, but there are three problems. If biofuels can’t be produced in virgin habitats, they must be confined to existing agricultural land, which means that every time we fill up the car we snatch food from people’s mouths. This, in turn, raises the price of food, which encourages farmers to destroy pristine habitats – primary forests, ancient grasslands, wetlands and the rest – in order to grow it. We can congratulate ourselves on remaining morally pure, but the impacts are the same. There is no way out of this: on a finite planet with tight food supplies, you either compete with the hungry or clear new land.
    The third problem is that the commission’s methodology has just been blown apart by two new papers. Published in Science magazine, they calculate the total carbon costs of biofuel production. When land clearance (caused either directly or by the displacement of food crops) is taken into account, all the major biofuels cause a massive increase in emissions.
    Even the most productive source – sugar cane grown in the scrubby savannahs of central Brazil – creates a carbon debt which takes 17 years to repay. As the major carbon reductions must be made now, the net effect of this crop is to exacerbate climate change. The worst source – palm oil displacing tropical rainforest growing in peat – invokes a carbon debt of some 840 years. Even when you produce ethanol from maize grown on “rested” arable land (which in the EU is called set-aside and in the United States is called conservation reserve), it takes 48 years to repay the carbon debt. The facts have changed. Will the policy follow?
    Many people believe there’s a way of avoiding these problems: by making biofuels not from the crops themselves but from crop wastes – if transport fuel can be manufactured from straw or grass or wood chips, there are no implications for land use, and no danger of spreading hunger. Until recently I believed this myself.
    Unfortunately most agricultural “waste” is nothing of the kind. It is the organic material that maintains the soil’s structure, nutrients and store of carbon. A paper commissioned by the US government proposes that, to help meet its biofuel targets, 75% of annual crop residues should be harvested. According to a letter published in Science last year, removing crop residues can increase the rate of soil erosion a hundredfold. Our addiction to the car, in other words, could lead to peak soil as well as peak oil.
    Removing crop wastes means replacing the nutrients they contain with fertiliser, which causes further greenhouse gas emissions. A recent paper by the Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen suggests that emissions of nitrous oxide (a greenhouse gas 296 times more powerful than CO2) from nitrogen fertilisers wipe out all the carbon savings biofuels produce, even before you take the changes in land use into account.
    Growing special second-generation crops, such as trees or switchgrass, doesn’t solve the problem either: like other energy crops, they displace both food production and carbon emissions. Growing switchgrass, one of the new papers in Science shows, creates a carbon debt of 52 years. Some people propose making second-generation fuels from grass harvested in natural meadows or from municipal waste, but it’s hard enough to produce them from single feedstocks; far harder to manufacture them from a mixture. Apart from used chip fat, there is no such thing as a sustainable biofuel.
    All these convoluted solutions are designed to avoid a simpler one: reducing the consumption of transport fuel. But that requires the use of a different commodity. Global supplies of political courage appear, unfortunately, to have peaked some time ago.


    Through biofuels we can reap the fruits of our labours

    If we use sewage, refuse or agricultural waste, biofuels can be sustainable – and cut poverty, says Ron Oxburgh

    Lord Oxburgh The Guardian, Thursday February 28 2008

    George Monbiot has gone too far. Whatever sympathy one has with his campaign against some present-day biofuels, it is absurd to say none are sustainable (Apart from used chip fat, there is no such thing as a sustainable biofuel , February 12).

    A month ago the Royal Society published a thoughtful paper, Sustainable Biofuel: Prospects and Challenges, which concluded that, done carefully, biofuels could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport. There certainly are sustainable biofuels, and producing some of them can help alleviate poverty in developing countries.

    Monbiot seems to assume that biofuels can be produced only from crops that are planted for the purpose. This is far from the truth. We shall be increasingly dependent on what we grow not only for food but also for fuel, and for raw materials for industrial processes. This will mean that the whole plant is used, with different parts meeting different needs, and the term “agricultural waste” will disappear from our vocabulary – in effect a return to the more integrated agricultural production of earlier centuries.

    In so far as he might argue that we are not there yet, Monbiot would be right. He states: “When land clearance … is taken into account, all the major biofuels cause a massive increase in emissions.” If a crop is grown solely as a fuel and on agricultural land displacing food production, or is cultivated in such a way that the emissions from producing it are greater than those of the fossil fuel, it is clearly a nonsense. Perverse US agricultural subsidies promote this today. But this is not the only route.

    Biofuels can be made from anything that grows or was produced from something that grew. Some “agri-wastes” (eg straw) can be converted to the petrol substitute ethanol. Probably the largest untapped source of bioenergy is the organic content of urban and industrial refuse and sewage. Obviously as much as possible should be recycled, but – although it is not easy, as Monbiot points out – the remainder can be gasified either to generate electricity directly or to make fuel liquids. To state that “there is no such thing as a sustainable biofuel” is nonsense.

    The company that I recently joined reforests degraded and marginal tropical land with a drought-resistant tree, jatropha curcas. After planting in small hand-dug holes it then takes five years before full fruiting. The fruit contains seed that can be crushed to give non-edible oil for use directly in heavy diesels or to be refined into high-specification fuel. The protein-rich seed cake left after oil extraction is useful too.

    Cultivation and fruit picking by hand is labour-intensive and needs around one person per hectare. In parts of rural India and Africa this provides much-needed jobs – about 200,000 people worldwide now find employment through jatropha. Moreover, villagers often find that they can grow other crops in the shade of the trees. Their communities will avoid importing expensive diesel and there will be some for export too.

    Mr Monbiot, there are biofuels and biofuels. Some make good sense.

    Lord Oxburgh is non-executive chairman of D1 Oils. He is a former non-executive chairman of Shell, chief scientific adviser to the Ministry of Defence, and professor of mineralogy and petrology at Cambridge University

  2. Bjorn Henriksson 29 February, 2008 at 1:56 pm #

    First thanks for the blog Simon, a very good resource. Seems to me that both you and Lord Oxburgh is avoiding an important step in Monbiot’s argumentation:
    “When land clearance … is taken into account, all the major biofuels cause a massive increase in emissions.”

    Take the deforestation into account and there’s no way you get a sustainable equation. If we then would stop deforestation but approve of growth of bio fuels we get increasing food prices we see today thus letting the market determine the value of human life. This puts, precisely as Monbiot points out, only human waste to be sustainable.

  3. Abdul Hanif 13 March, 2008 at 9:56 pm #

    In reply to Bjorn Hendriksson, you are making the 2 common mistakes that George Monbiot & others like you make. Both stem from the same cause in my view: you lump bioDIESEL & bioETHANOL together as biofuel & fail to make any distinction.

    Demand for palm oil & soybean oil DOES lead to highly damaging (catastrophic, in my view) deforestation in rainforests such as in Brasil, Malaysia & Indonesia. However, you fail to realise that BIODIESEL DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PRODUCED FROM PALM OR SOYBEAN OIL. In fact, palm oil derived biodiesel makes a poor biodiesel for colder climates. As a biodiesel producer-to-be, I DETEST the use of palm & soybean oil for biodiesel production, as, I suspect, do the majority of small-medium scale producers. This is not just for environmental reasons either: meeting sustainability criteria makes good business sense too. Rapeseed oil is very much preferred over palm oil to produce biodiesel, & better still, doesn’t cause deforestation & can be grown on set-aside land.

    The second common mistake that you make is to either confuse bioETHANOL with bioDIESEL, or you don’t differentiate between the two. The sugars/starches from staple food crops such as corn, wheat, maize etc are used to produce bioETHANOL. This does produce some food vs. fuel conflict, not least because huge US Federal subsidies has led to a surge in corn acreage, as farmers switched from other grains leading in turn to shortages and price rises in soya beans, wheat, barley and other crops. However, this is not the only cause. “China’s economic growth is probably the biggest single reason for soaring food prices. With hundreds of millions of people having left the land to work in the cities over recent decades, incomes are rising and the demand for meat, principally pork and chicken, is soaring. Industry figures suggest that three-quarters of the increased demand for soya beans is coming from China where they are used to fatten pigs” (Nick Louth, The Motley Fool). Another reason for the increase in food prices is that Australia, a big world grain producer, is in the grip of a devastating drought. What it all boils down to is that you cannot simply blame bioethanol production for rising grain prices (although it plays a part). The other thing is that the food vs. fuel debate bears very little relevance to bioDIESEL- I’ve yet to hear of a people that relies on oil, rape seed, sunflower seed etc as a staple food. And yet people always bring out the same tired, disingenuous argument against biodiesel. Whether they’ve made a genune mistake in confusing biodiesel with bioethanol, or have some other agenda, I’m not sure.

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