“It does grow on marginal land, but if you use marginal land you’ll get marginal yields,”
Jatropha has been hailed as some sort of wonder crop that produces bountiful oil on lands that are unusable for agriculture or living.Â Yet we are hearing stories that industry needs more subsidies in order to develop these fuels in China and elsewhere.
I think that if you ask any businessperson who has actually tried to grow Jatropha trees (and I have…) – almost anywhere in the world, you will get a similar answer.Â You’ll also hear stories of crop and business failure.Â The reason industry needs higher subsidies to develop is because these fuels, thus far, are not economically sustainable, as noted in a recent Friends of the Earth report linked below.Â International experience also suggests that they are not environmentally or socially sustainable either.
When Jatropha crops are planted, land (even è’åœ° – marginal land) has to be cleared of vegetation (meaning high GHG emissions).Â If the plants are grown, they need fertilizer, possibly irrigation and other maintenance which requires GHG emissions, and then when the crops or businesses fail (and so far, this is a strong trend for Jatropha), those trees will decompose — meaning another high GHG emission.Â Blind, poorly planned forest-based biodiesel projects will result in large GHG emissions which should not be supported.Â There are even unconfirmed stories that the definition of “marginal land” in China are not well defined, and not well monitored either, meaning that what is actually productive land may be under use as land for biofuel production, thus violating the “three nots” of biofuel production in China: “Does not compete with people for food; Does not compete with agriculture for land; Does not damage the environment”.
While in the future, forest-based biodiesel may well be an excellent alternative source of transport energy,Â this technology cannot be blindly supported at this time.Â China needs to develop biodiesel project planning and approval processes; develop sustainability standards and laws.Â Furthermore, subsidies should be tied directly to a reviewed Environmental Impact Assessment report, and plan for industry to meet strict sustainability standards – for example, RSB standards – as well as a plan for maintaining economic profitability.
Only when industry and government understand the heavy impact that these developments can have on the local and global environment should we support them to have increased subsidies for biodiesel.