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Biofuels worse than fossil fuels, finds new report

That’s the finding of a new report by Chatham House, which adds that biodiesel from vegetable oils is found to be worse for the climate than fossil diesel.

The report, dubbed “The Trouble with Biofuels”, points out that as of 15 April 2013 the UK government is set to increase its target for biofuel use to 5% of transport fuels.

And this will need to be exceeded several times over in line with EU targets for 2020.

However, a government-commissioned review of UK biofuel policy recommended in 2008 that biofuel use should not surpass this level unless major sustainability issues are addressed.

The researchers add that the 5% biofuel target is likely to cost UK motorists in the region of £460m in the current financial year. This figure represents the increased cost of fuel from higher prices at the pump and the need to fill-up the car more often because biofuels have lower energy content.

If the UK is to meet its EU obligations, the annual cost to UK motorists is likely to rise to around £1.3bn a year by 2020.

The report adds that biofuels are an expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – the research found that typically the cost of emissions reductions from biofuels are several times what the government has identified as an appropriate price to pay.

Expanding biofuel use is also leading to higher food prices. This has damaging implications for food security in poor countries and is also likely to contribute to higher emissions, as farmers respond to higher prices by expanding production, sometimes into rainforest. After incorporating these “indirect emission” effects, the analysis found that biofuels produced from vegetable oils are likely to be worse for the climate than fossil fuels.

Rob Bailey, author of the report, said: ‘Current biofuels are at best an expensive way of reducing emissions. At worst they produce more emissions than the fossil fuels they replace and contribute to high and unstable food prices. Policymaking needs to catch up with the evidence base.'

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.