Biofuel: fuel security or food security?

Freddy Pattiselanno (Fakultas Peternakan Perikanan & Ilmu Kelautan Universitas Negeri Papua, Manokwari)

Fuel shortages are common in Indonesia, although we are a member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).  Therefore, though the government of Indonesia subsidizes diesel and gasoline, but with the increase of world crude oil prices about US$70 per barrel, continuing subsidy has placed extra pressure on the national budget.

On the other hand, the development of some big cities in Indonesia lead to air pollution caused by means of transportation is today problem facing local government.   Some alternative solutions have been implemented to reduce the air pollution; however, there is no proper solution that currently working well to solve the pollution problems.

Indonesia is considered the world’s largest producer of crude palm oil (CPO) and become a significant industry sector which produces about 20 million tons of CPO per year, of this 80% is exported.  In spite of producing million tons of CPO, in reality, the agriculture industry sectors are still dependent on oil and natural gas.  However, many also believe that agriculture sector plays an important role in providing part of the future substitutes for fossil fuels.

As recent advances in biodiesel processing technology have improved, the possibility of using CPO to produce so-called “green diesel” is now more fruitful than both biodiesel and fossil diesel.  Biofuels can also play a role in reducing greenhouse gas and carbon emissions.

At the national level, this advantage of green diesel can be used to replace fossil fuel and will directly break away from our reliance on fossil diesel imports. At the same time, this supports Indonesian government’s efforts to conserve energy and reduce air pollution as part of promoting environmentally friendly energy. Therefore, the plan to expand the oil palm plantation to 10 million hectares in 2015 will be the means to approach Indonesian fuel security near the future.   The question to be asked is if agriculture can provide sufficient edible biomass not only for food production of an escalating world population but also for some biofuel production for the world’s cars.  As today motor biofuel is produced mainly from primary agricultural production, how can we expect the situation to change in the future? Can global agriculture expand in such an extent that it can provide a growing population with both food and fuels, or are such expectations unrealistic?

 Unfortunately, that about 1 billion people are chronically undernourished and for them food security is still far away.

Another important issue to notice that people skeptical in using primary agricultural products for car fuel argue that today’s highly intensive agriculture requires lots of fossil energy, threatens biodiversity in large areas of monocultures and leads to deforestation by converting for example rain forest land to agricultural land and cause damage such as erosion and loss of ecosystem services such as clean water.

Devastation of the forests to make room for plantations threatens many unique species in the rainforests and causes irreparable damage to the entire ecosystem. Forest destruction also makes a significant contribution to the increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide content.

With the present rate of population increase, food security in itself will be enough of a challenge for future agriculture.  In addition, potential agricultural output is limited by the availability of farmland, water, and further limitations are soil quality and the ability of surrounding ecosystems to cope with leakage from the agricultural systems.

 If the present agricultural system is to provide the present and the future world population with enough food, there is not much room for wasting any edible fraction or using it for biofuel.  Thus, present production of edible crops cannot be used for biofuel production without threatening food security. One important way of increasing the net production within the present agricultural system is to reduce postharvest losses and losses through refinement processes of primary products.

Any potential increase of crop availability should be reserved for the anticipated increase of the global population by about 50% during the next 50 years. With a growing global population, in the competition between fuel and food, food production must take priority.

However, there is still a great potential to obtain bioenergy from agricultural residues, forestry and waste.

But is that desirable?

As the world’s largest producers of CPO one of the biodiesel potential is to provide income to Indonesian extreme poverty households who lived under the poverty line.  Therefore, we could become a key world player in biodiesel through further development of CPO production into a much larger and more profitable biodiesel industry.  On the other hand, as oil palm plantations for production of biodiesel constitute a major threat to the rainforests, deforestation caused by the unsustainable cultivation of palm oil can significantly increase greenhouse gasses.

Therefore, other alternative crops that might also be used to reduce the negative impact of crude palm plantation oil as biofuel source should be considered.  Further research should also be undertaken to find out potential crops that could be grown in marginal land and provide better yields in supporting the biofuel industries.

With the most advance agriculture technology, genetic modified organism (GMO) might be an alternative way for the solution.  Another possibility is utilized renewable resources derived from plant or any edible fraction from agriculture products in the production of the biofuels.

If biofuel will become a necessity in the future energy system, it is crucial that vehicles will not ‘‘eat’’ our food.


Catatan:  Gambar diambil dari berbagai sumber melalui internet

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