New report shows “green” biofuels made from palm oil accelerating climate change

By Bangor University

Growing oil palm to make ‘green’ biofuels in the tropics could be accelerating the effects of climate change, say scientists.

Researchers from Bangor University found the creation of oil palm plantations are releasing prehistoric sources of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.

The findings throw into doubt hopes that biofuels grown in the tropics could help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Working as part of an international team, the north Wales scientists looked at how the deforestation of peat-swamps in Malaysia, to make way for oil palm trees, is releasing carbon which has been locked away for thousands of years.

It is feared this carbon will be attacked by microbes and produce the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. The Bangor researchers say the ancient carbon comes from deep in the soil, which as the effects of deforestation take hold, breaks down and dissolves into the nearby watercourses.

When describing their work which appears in Nature, Prof Chris Freeman commented: “We first noticed that the ditches draining areas converted to palm oil plantations were loaded with unusually high levels of dissolved carbon back in 1995, but it was not until my researcher Dr Tim Jones took samples to measure the age of that carbon that we realised we were onto something important”. Dr Jones added “We were amazed to discover that the samples from Malaysian oil palm plantations contained the oldest soil-derived dissolved organic carbon ever recorded.”

The Bangor University researchers measured the water leaching from channels in palm oil plantations in the Malaysian peninsular which were originally Peatland Swamp Forest. There are approximately 28,000 km2 of industrial plantations in peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo with even more planned, making them a major contributor to peatswamp deforestation in the region. Prof Freeman commented; “Our results are yet another reminder that when we disturb intact peatswamps and convert them to industrial biofuel plantations, we risk adding to the very problem that we are trying to solve”

Prof Freeman added: “We have known for some time that in South East Asia, oil palm plantations were a major threat to biodiversity, including the habitat for orang-utans, and that the drainage could release huge amounts of carbon dioxide during the fires seen there in recent years. But this discovery of a “hidden” new source of problems in the waters draining these peatlands is a reminder that these fragile ecosystems really are in need of conservation.”

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0 thoughts on “New report shows “green” biofuels made from palm oil accelerating climate change”

  1. On the bright side, it is true that palm oil has contributed to economic well-being in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea and other countries that produce it and no one denies that.

    If we keep a balanced view, we should take notice of the dark side as well, which is what conscientious people are fighting against. Leave alone the destruction of rainforests and the habitat of orangutans, piggy elephants, biodiversity and ecosystems, and issues of paraquat.

    From climate change point of view palm oil production is very damaging to the environment at present releasing millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly. This is more than the carbon dioxide released from the coal fired power plants in these countries.

    The farmers, planters, agriculturists and small holders work hard to bring palm oil on the table, however, in contrast the palm oil mills in the supply chain cause all the havoc. The solution to climate change damage lies at the palm oil mills. The mills should stop considering the 74% biomass by-product remaining after extracting the palm oil and palm kernels in the palm oil production process at the mill as waste material. It contain massive amount of clean energy! This clean energy when utilised efficiently and productively can bring down the carbon footprint of palm oil to significant low levels.

    Technologies and means are readily available to harness this energy to displace fossil fuel elsewhere outside the mill thereby mitigating the climate change damage by reducing the carbon footprint. The sad part is that the will to adopt is wanting in the palm oil milling industry. The Principles and Criteria of RSPO regarding optimising Renewable Energy at the palm oil mill is largely ignored at present.

    Rightfully, it’s the palm oil mill that attention should be focus on.

    The increased production of palm oil in recent years necessitates large quantities of it being converted to biodiesel to absorb the supply. In this scenario, where the biodiesel is meant to displace petroleum diesel to reduce carbon emissions, the carbon footprint of palm oil comes into stronger focus.

    For interesting read browse:

    Yours sincerely,

    Climate change is ‘an immediate and growing threat.’
    No stone should be left unturned to mitigate GHG and climate change.

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