From solid gold biofuel Mercedes in Abu Dhabi to biofuel-producing algae lakes in Iran, it seems that biofuels are destined to play a part in the region’s future development. Now, Jordan has announced that it will be experimenting with planting Jatropha, a tree which produces high-quality biodiesel to be used in standard diesel cars. But are biofuels really the solution to the Mideast’s dependency on gas and oil?
The recent announcement from the Jordanian government that it will be cultivating an oil-producing plant no doubt received a mixed reception. On the one hand, anything which challenges the country’s heavy dependency on petroleum is surely a good thing. On the other hand is the whole issue of whether biofuels are actually sustainable or ‘green’ fuels that should be encouraged.
Food vs. Fuel
The Jatropha plant in question is a small tree or bush whose seed produces oil which can processed into bio-diesel and used directly in cars. According to the Jordan Times, by-products can also be used as biomass to power electricity or as fertilizer. This apparent win-win situation does however ignore the fact that plants cultivated for fuels are jostling for space with plants cultivated for food.
Forestland is already coming under pressure due to the growing demand for space to grow crops used for biofuels (or agrofuels as they are also known). As Danny Chivers points out in his no-nonsense guide to climate change, there are two major problems with biofuels: the land-grab causes an increase in the price of food and the demand for land also causes poorer farmers to cut down rainforests to create farmlands which contributes to climate change.
Biofuel Contribute to Rising Food Prices
We have already reported on the political implications of rising food prices in the region- a rush for biofuels which puts more pressure on food supplies would only aggravate the situation. Although biofuels do seem to provide a rather convenient quick-fix, which avoids dealing with our deadly dependence on oil or the need to sort out public transport to reduce people’s attraction to gas-guzzling cars, the reality is that it comes at the price of more expensive food.
Now, I can probably live without a car but I definitely can’t live without food so to my mind biofuels are simply a risk not worth taking.
: Image via treesftf on flickr.
For More Bio-Fuels in the Middle East: