Stockholm: Biofuels, hailed by many as the green solution to offset a coming oil shortage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, are not a cure-all solution, experts at a water conference in Stockholm warned this week. More than 2,500 water experts from around the world are attending the meet
Biofuels, which are made from crops, require huge amounts of water, a resource that is already in short supply in many parts of the world. Bioenergy could thus end up diverting water resources desperately needed for food crops.
“When governments and companies are discussing biofuel solutions, I think water issues are not addressed enough,” Johan Kuylenstierna, director of the World Water Week conference, told AFP.
Water for food more important than water for biofuels
In the future “food production will need to increase, water consumption will increase dramatically in the agriculture sector and biofuels will increase. This doesn’t add up for the water perspective,” Kuylenstierna added.
“Where will the water to grow the food needed to feed a growing population come from if more and more water is diverted to crops for biofuels production?” asked Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) spokesman David Trouba.
According to SIWI, in 2050, amount of additional water needed for bioenergy production will be equivalent to the amount required by the agricultural sector to feed the world properly.
Biofuels, only one of the available solutions
“Biofuels are not ‘the´ solution, but one of the solutions,” Kuylenstierna stressed. Meanwhile Sunita Narain, head, Centre for Science and Environment in India and a prominent expert at the Stockholm conference, said biofuels were “good as an idea but bad in practice.”
The main priority should not be how to develop biofuels, but rather how to put a halt to society’s increasing fuel consumption, she insisted.
She said it was “asinine” to believe that the world would be able to continue to consume as much biofuel in the future as it does fossil fuel today.“If you want to use water for biofuel production, you must cut down on consumption of biofuels,” she said, suggesting that ethanol be used for collective transport such as buses to reduce the number of cars on the road.
In addition to the water shortage issue, experts said they also feared that large-scale biofuel production would lead to a sharp rise in the price of food staples. Narain, criticised price pressure on foodstuffs and cited the case of the recent “tortilla war” in US.
The ‘maize case’
An increase in US production of ethanol, made of maize, in early 2007 led to a rise in the price of the crop on the international market, which in turn prompted a surge in the price of tortillas, a corn-based bread that is a staple among Mexicans.
US is investing heavily in developing its ethanol production, which now accounts for 5% of fuel volumes sold in the country.
For 95 litres of pure ethanol, about 200 kg of maize is needed, or an equivalent of enough calories to feed a person for an entire year, SIWI noted.