Monster ILUC threatens biofuels in the competition of energy systems

A dramatic article title for a dramatic debate on growing energy crops. The discussion about "ILUC" is currently upsetting the bioenergy industry. Opinions on ILUC are very divided. This is nothing new when it comes to biofuels. The biofuel companies fear declining sales and investment backlogs, but some environmental groups are keeping the issue on the agenda and want to get to the bottom of environmental risks. The article presents a list of 10 perspectives on ILUC.

The branch of Biofuels faces up to the critical topic, but would like to avoid a debate that is similarly emotional and partly below the belt as to the tank or plate conflict. After all, biofuels are also about many jobs and an innovative industry that has started to make its contribution to the energy and raw materials transition.

As an introduction to the ILUC topic, I also recommend reading the article on moral issues and the ethical dimension of the energetic use of biomass. This is mainly about the tank or plate debate, although many arguments also apply to ILUC.

What is ILUC?

ILUC stands for "Indirect Land Use Change" and, in short, examines the effects that can indirectly arise from the cultivation of energy crops.

Specifically, the effects of land use changes are meant, which would probably not have happened without the targeted cultivation of energy crops. This additional arable land means that additional agricultural processing steps (sowing, fertilization etc.) are necessary, which in turn release additional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The positive carbon footprint of products made from energy crops, such as biofuels, is clouded by this effect.

Various studies are currently investigating how strongly the ILUC factor influences the carbon footprint of biofuels. Studies published in October 2011 (see below) assume a 15-50% increase in GHG values ​​for biofuels. The wide range is due to the use of various energy crops and cultivation systems for bioethanol and biodiesel.

When considering the ILUC factor, the carbon footprint of biofuels largely remains significantly better than that of fossil colleagues. Nevertheless, the CO2018 reduction rates demanded by the European Commission and rising to 60% by 2, especially with current biodiesel fuels, can hardly be met. At least that's how the ILUC study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) sees it. For each study, however, the publisher must also be taken into account, who in this case has traditionally been committed to promoting the cultivation of food.

10 perspectives on ILUC - Indirect Land Use Change

Here are 10 perspectives and arguments on ILUC.

  1. ILUC is a threat to the survival of some biofuels (e.g. rapeseed and soy biodiesel).
  2. ILUC is a necessary debate in order to weigh up existing environmental risks and to be able to specifically support the most suitable forms of bioenergy generation.
  3. ILUC is a topic that must be discussed for every system (!) For energy generation. Land use changes are also made by fossil fuels or by wind and solar energy and are part of every landscape intervention. Either all energy systems are taken into account in the ILUC debate or none. Unilateral discrimination against bioenergy should be avoided.
  4. ILUC is the result of the opportunity to integrate previously unusable or economically unused areas into the regional value chain.
  5. How can a negative development of the CO2 balance of biofuels by ILUC and the positive development of the economy in the regions growing energy crops be "offset"?
  6. How can the debate about ILUC be conducted critically, but also exploring the potential? After all, the discussion about ILUC also costs valuable time and creative energy that is lost for the rapid introduction of regenerative alternatives.
  7. ILUC once again shows that the acceleration of the introduction of Next generation biofuels is very important.
  8. ILUC also shows that the value of arable land and thus the competition for existing land has increased due to the cultivation of energy crops. This development brings with it shifts which harbor opportunities and risks.
  9. Which areas (forests?) Are too valuable to be used for the cultivation of energy crops and which areas (fallow land?) Are useful and acceptable? This question should be answered together with countries whose most important resource is a large biomass potential and rich arable land.
  10. We should take ILUC seriously as an intervention in the landscape and the ecosystem network, but a largely improved climate balance is only ONE of many Benefits of bioenergy. Diversity also exists in biofuels and should be taken into account in the public ILUC debate.

International studies on ILUC published

The precise effects of ILUC on the climate balance of biofuels are currently being determined by several studies commissioned by the European Commission.

Here is a small selection of international studies and statements on the ILUC problem. The download of the 2.5 MB studies sometimes takes a little longer.

Image for article on the ILUC debate and oil deprivation
Withdrawal from petroleum is not easy as pie!

The oil withdrawal is harder than expected

The interesting article “ILUC kills the bio fuel industry“On the blog, the ILUC debate looks with critical, but unfortunately also somewhat one-sided, industry-damaging eyes and with little heart for the new cultivation options for many farmers. It's a clear contra-biofuels article. Nevertheless, I would like to recommend the article here because it also contains very interesting arguments.

Form your own opinion, but also consider the great potential of biofuels and the fact that oil remains finite on earth and we are dependent on the search for alternatives. With all commendable ambitions for strong environmental and climate protection, many of our civilizational achievements of the past 150 years are also based on the use of oil. If environmental protection demands are too strong, we must also take into account all the consequences that result from this and then we all have to face it.

Where does the fear come from that is projected into biofuels? Am I not critical enough about biofuels, or are critics using biofuels as a scapegoat for our desperate withdrawal from oil together?

I have no answer to this question even if I have been asking myself more questions lately. Perhaps the concern about the enormous environmental damage that could result from biofuels is also a general fear of "industries"? After all, we have accumulated a lot of experience in our collective memory about the dark side of industrialization.

The energy and resource turnaround and the deprivation of the slowly running out of oil are definitely much harder than expected. A film that offers a deeper and very exciting introduction to this problem is the film "Home" by Yann Arthus-Bertrand.

What do you think?

11 comments on “ILUC monster threatens biofuels in the competition of energy systems”

  1. There have been some exciting and passionate discussions about this article on LinkedIn. This international exchange shows that biofuels also have significantly more advocates than I thought in relation to the ILUC debate.

    Here is the link to ILUC debate in the LinkedIn group Biofuels.

    Many approaches and arguments about ILUC are seen as unbalanced and unhelpful. A scientist who is involved in the creation of scientific models has explained the problem that scientific models for such complex topics usually pretend a certainty that they actually cannot maintain. Nevertheless, these “hard facts” are often used when it comes to making political decisions. Here is the link to the discussion on ILUC article in the Biofuels Digests group.

    Finally, the ILUC arguments in the LinkedIn group Biofuel.

  2. Securing mobility in the long term requires highly efficient vehicles that can run on fuels that are already available, are environmentally friendly and inexpensive. Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV for short) is a vehicle that is adaptable to the fuel and can run on petrol, bioethanol and any mixture of these fuels. It offers the greatest potential for reducing the dependency on oil imports and for reducing CO2 pollutant emissions. FFV are the first choice in terms of energy efficiency, costs and immediate availability. Other countries such as Brazil, Sweden, the USA and France, but also China, have already recognized this and are supporting their industries with extensive programs on the way to environmentally friendly mobility.

    For Germany, it is not just a matter of drawing a line here, but of taking on a leading role in Europe. FFV and super fuel E85 is therefore a topic of great strategic importance for the Federal Government, which was anchored in connection with energy supply from renewable sources in the Integrated Energy and Climate Program (IEKP). An effective introduction of FFV and biofuels has failed for years due to the hen / egg syndrome. Not so for natural gas, LPG and electromobility. Energy suppliers and mineral oil companies are extremely interested in suppressing energy sources that are outside their sphere of activity in competition. Germany urgently needs a technology that is based on market prices and can prevail.

    Despite increasing environmental awareness and a constantly growing range of vehicle manufacturers, Germans are losing interest in cars with alternative drives. In 2011, the share of automobiles with alternative drive in the total number of new registrations was only 0,82 percent. Not only is this still negligible, it is a step backwards. In 2010, the share of cars with alternative drives in new registrations was 0,84 percent.

    Manufacturers of bioethanol and independent petrol station operators must act together and enter into a constructive dialogue with the responsible departments (BMWi, BMVBS, BMU, BMBF). Explore the challenges of opportunities together, develop guidelines for implementation and support options for implementing extensive dissemination and acceptance.
    The results of these discussions should flow into the National Development Plan, which is to provide the framework for future technology developments and the market launch in Germany. E85 and FFV can be the most important building block in the Federal Government's updated fuel strategy. The combination E85 / FFV can reduce the dependency on oil imports faster than any other known concept. Alternative drive concepts and new transport technologies are also very important in the Federal Government's High-Tech Strategy (HTS). Ultimately, the spread of bioethanol fuel also brings opportunities for new vehicle categories and modern traffic concepts.

    Overall, bioethanol is far superior to all other fuels and technologies in terms of efficiency - from production to transport and cycling. The expansion of the necessary infrastructure with E85 dispensers allows FFV technology a wide range of freedom. When choosing the type of fuel, the user can also use other petrol, he can refuel bivalent and last but not least, greenhouse gas emissions in road traffic are significantly reduced by using E85 fuel. If around one million cars with E2020 would roll over Germany's roads in 85, the environment would be spared around 5,5 million tons of CO2.

    The preparations for a dialogue with the political working group from BMWi, BMVBS, BMU, BMBF are in preparation. Become part of a group of producers, distributors and manufacturers and let us show our interests and demands together.
    Awaiting for your feedback, I remain

  3. Thank you for this detailed comment. With me personally, you open doors with your assessment of biofuels and FFV vehicles! I don't really understand why we don't promote bioethanol, but also biodiesel, much more politically and thus accelerate the breakthrough of biofuels.

    It is quite sobering to see how little biofuels are currently being promoted. We once had a really good funding situation in Germany, which made a real mobility alternative possible. We have to go back there! Instead, the associations now have to fight hard to extend the tax breaks for biofuels beyond 2012. The revival of the bio-fuel market is even stipulated in the coalition agreement!

    To speak of a tax exemption or tax reduction for biodiesel and bioethanol blends is almost a bold vision in Germany. We have to change that again. I can understand that in the sometimes dramatically exaggerated and riotous campaigns surrounding tank plates or ILUC, the legislature has become very careful when it comes to promoting biofuels.

    If the development of biofuel technologies mainly takes place abroad (Brazil, the USA or even China), that's a shame at first, but in the medium term we will also benefit from it in Germany. The middle of the past decade has shown how quickly a biofuel infrastructure can be built. I am therefore optimistic that biofuels and their numerous advantages (which in addition to the risks also exist!) Will have a stronger impact on the German fuel market in the future. After all, we took another important step with the launch of E10 last year.

    However, the implementation of positive campaigns to educate people about biofuels is certainly not wrong and can help to make the public debate, which is heavily negatively affected, more balanced.

  4. As a livestock organic farmer who is also very involved with the development of agriculture
    and the agricultural policy, I would like to contribute the following:

    When agricultural technology and agricultural chemistry simplified plant production in the 1950/1960 and enabled massive increases, grain prices fell due to the excess.

    At the same time, many people who knew meat only from hearsay during the war and need could
    produce meat again. What logically did many farmers do? They built "modern" stables
    with slatted floors for cattle and pigs and cages for chickens. In agricultural terms
    this is called "refinement".

    And because pigs were suddenly no longer allowed to be fat and because of cows
    allegedly more profitable if they give 6000 or 9000 or 12000 liters a year you have to feed them accordingly. And so today, soy and other things are imported in huge quantities so that Europe's animals can be fed “as needed” (as far as I know
    the oil is pressed from the soy first, the animals only get the press cake).

    Shortly after the turn of the millennium, grain prices were pretty low again
    Of course, the farmers were happy about the new rapeseed oil and biogas markets.

    The rising meat consumption in the emerging countries is mentioned everywhere and nobody
    talks about the absurdly high consumption in Europe and North America.

    At the same time a vegetarian discussion is going on again from many corners.
    As a livestock farmer, I also have to say that some livestock makes sense
    and also environmentally friendly.

    Summary: We should all grab our own nose and our meat consumption
    reduce reasonable and environmentally friendly measure, then there is also a lot of space for
    Biofuels and biogas (although I don't want to pretend to maize).

    A few more food for thought:
    - Has anyone ever thought about the energetic efficiency of intensive animal husbandry
    - I also save energy like crazy but when I think about the fact that the air traffic gets the fuel for the net price I get sick

  5. Thank you Walter for this detailed comment and a look at the past decades of agriculture in Germany. In most cases, a look into the past helps to better understand and evaluate the current situation.

    The chairman of the board of the Federal Bioenergy Association (Mr. Lamp) is also a farmer and reports on similar experiences, especially with the development of grain prices. If I understand correctly, a farmer does not earn much more for a quintuple of grain today than he did 40 years ago - and that with otherwise steadily rising costs. The sharp rise in agricultural productivity is therefore both a blessing and a curse for farmers.

    I find the argument about the importance of our increased meat consumption very interesting and shows that the conflict between energetic and material use of arable crops (biomass) is very complicated. Meat production requires a comparatively large amount of land for growing the fodder crops. Reducing your own meat consumption is therefore a sensible suggestion that can bring many advantages. In my opinion, “touching your own nose” is the most constructive thing you can often do as a consumer. Changing your own behavior is uncomfortable, but often most effective when you want to see quick results.

    Unfortunately I don't have any figures about the energy efficiency of intensive livestock farming, but maybe the DBV can be helpful here ?!

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