Biofuel is gaining prominence in the power industry. Yet its eco-credentials largely depend on what fuel is used in its production. When the French government banned palm oil from the country’s biofuel scheme, it was hailed as a positive step in the fight against wide-scale deforestation.
What exactly are the dangers of palm oil, and what does this case tell us about how biopower should be regulated?
GlobalData’s power technology writer Scarlett Evans says: “Palm oil’s exclusion from the French biofuel scheme came into effect in January 2020. Under the law, palm oil cannot be considered a biofuel unless producers can guarantee its production has not added to greenhouse gas emissions, with the country’s constitutional court saying the measure is in line with the public interest of environmental protection.
“The efforts of Greenpeace France were instrumental in lobbying for the ban, and the organisation was especially vocal against objections from Total. The oil and gas giant had only recently invested €300m to convert its crude oil refinery in La Mède to a biofuel plant, and CEO Patrick Pouyanne warned palm oil’s exclusion could lead to a loss of up to €80m ($88m) for the site.
“As part of its campaign against Total, Greenpeace released a report investigating the company’s biofuel supply chain, with findings showing most of the oil used in La Mède was without guarantee and therefore potentially associated with deforestation.”
Clément Sénéchal, climate and forest campaign officer at Greenpeace France, told GlobalData: “If using the biomass comes at the expense of natural carbon stock and sinks like forests then it’s not a fit for purpose solution. The shift towards biofuels is a shift towards the end of tropical forests. The solution won’t come from biofuels, it will come from energy saving initiatives.”