Biofuels never seem to be out of the news these days. They seem to be blamed for everything: food shortages, soaring grain prices, and rainforest destruction. Even the EU is rapidly backpedalling, aware that its policies failed to take into account the true impacts. In the UK a 2.5 per cent target is now in place, but two weeks after its inception, ministers have repeated their call for biofuels targets to be put on hold until proper standards are in place to guarantee sustainability.
With all the evidence that is accumulating, biofuels are easy to lambast. This miracle green solution to transport emissions has turned sour. They make such a great story of doom and gloom, it’s no wonder the media have latched on to it with such enthusiasm.
The danger is that all bioenergy will be tarred with the same brush. But biofuels are just one aspect. Organic material can also be used to produce heat and power, and it’s a much more efficient and carbon-lean way of using it.
We’ve been doing it since we were living in caves and we didn’t need to grow oilseed rape. We used good old wood.
The woodfuel industry is well developed in other parts of Europe, but still embryonic in the UK. Yet with a bit of careful planning and resourcing, we could make wood work for us in more ways than one. A market for wood fuel could help fund work that will be good for biodiversity, such as restoration of ancient woodland sites or important upland habitats that were planted with conifers, and good for the environment in other ways, like planting of new woodland that would alleviate flooding.
The Forestry Commission has ambitious targets for increased woodfuel production, but there are major hurdles to overcome in building up the infrastructure to help this happen, and a careful approach is needed to make sure production delivers genuine additional benefits to the environment. But the many benefits our woods and forests can deliver have long been ignored. A bit of positive publicity and support wouldn’t go amiss.