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Royal Dutch Shell Plc .com: biofuels from food crops: Shell backtracks on morally inappropriate comment

From Headline: INTERVIEW – Shell Plans Cleaner Second Generation of Biofuels

UK: July 10, 2006

LONDON – Royal Dutch Shell aims to develop a second generation of biofuels that diminishes their impact on climate change and competition with food crops, the company’s head of biofuels said on Friday. 

But Darran Messem distanced the group from comments by a senior Shell executive in Singapore, quoted by Reuters, that generating biofuels from food crops was morally inappropriate as long as there are people in the world who are starving. “The comments made yesterday do not fully represent Shell’s policy or position on biofuels,” he said.

On Thursday, Eric G Holthusen, Fuels Technology Manager Asia/Pacific, said Shell’s participation in marketing biofuels extracted from food was driven by economics or legislation but it would be preferable not to take this route.

“We think morally it is inappropriate because what we are doing here is using food and turning it into fuel. If you look at Africa, there are still countries that have a lack of food, people are starving, and because we are more wealthy we use food and turn it into fuel,” Holthusen said.

Gaining force as an alternative fuel, biofuels are the product of fermentation of sugar and starch from plant crops like cane and corn, or from waste such as straw and wood chips.

Soaring demand is partly driven by policy — with the likes of Europe and the United States eyeing minimum requirements for biofuel blending with conventional fuels.

Governments see biofuels as an answer both to energy security concerns, because they can be made locally, and fears over global warming — because it is a renewable energy source.


But it is not a panacea.

Biofuels can produce more greenhouse gases than conventional fuels, if you include the emissions from agriculture, transport and processing involved in their production, and exclude the fact they are derived from plants which absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, Messem said.

If that CO2 absorption is included, US ethanol derived from corn produces 30 percent less CO2 than conventional gasoline, Messem said, citing a joint study by Concawe, JRC and EUCAR.

Shell has no biofuel production capacity but says it is the world’s biggest blender and distributor, into markets including Brazil, the United States and Europe.

And it is developing second generation fuel technologies using waste such as wood chips and straw, which avoid competing with food production and will emit up to 95 percent less CO2 than conventional gasoline, said Messem.

“Second generation technologies offer a more sustainable way of delivering energy,” he said.

Shell is currently in partnership with Canadian biotech firm Iogen Corp. producing biofuels from woodchip, eyeing production of up to 100 million litres per year from 2009. US ethanol capacity is expected to reach 6.3 billion gallons, or over 20 billion litres, per year at the end of 2006. 

Story by Gerard Wynn

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