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Why we need biofuels

Remember that summer day back in 2007 when you could finally fill your car with bioethanol? Photo: Birna Rørslett/Samfoto/NTB
Remember that summer day back in 2007 when you could finally fill your car with bioethanol? Photo: Birna Rørslett/Samfoto/NTB
Necessary reductions in greenhouse gases will be achieved too late if we have to wait for all our aircraft, ships and trains to transition from fossil fuels. This is why we need biofuels – in spite of the criticisms levelled at their use in a recent article published on the opinions website ‘NRK Ytring’. Biofuels are no ‘climate change mitigation ruse’, as these authors would have you believe.

The environmental activist organisation Bellona, together with the Norwegian electrical trade associations EFO and Nelfo, have used an article on the opinions website NRK Ytring to level serious criticisms at the value of biofuels. The link to this article, written in Norwegian, can be found here. Their argument includes, among other things, the statement that “we must not forget that the biofuels burned in a combustion engine can at any time be replaced by fossil fuels”.

This is to turn the entire issue of biofuels on its head.

Ready for use – today!

We acknowledge that both electrification and the use of hydrogen are excellent initiatives. However, biofuels offer the great advantage that they can be used in our existing engines. There is no immediate need to replace all our fossil fuel-driven vehicles, or to enhance our existing, or build new, infrastructure.

By utilising biofuels today, they will help us to achieve our climate change mitigation targets more quickly and at a lower cost.

This argument applies in particular when it comes to aircraft, ships and heavy goods transport,  but is also valid for our cars. It is simply good circular economy to extend the life of cars currently powered by fossil fuels by making them ‘green’ rather than scrapping them.

We need all the carbon reduction measures we can get!

We want to make it very clear that we are not against the electrification of the transport sector. On the contrary, 

we in Norway and the world as a whole need to exploit all the carbon reduction measures we can get. Kristin Bremer Nebben from Drivkraft Norge, which is an association representing the interests of Norwegian fuel and energy companies, has made this clear in her response to the Bellona article, also published on the NRK Ytring website. The link to her article, also in Norwegian, can be found here.

This is why we need electric cars.

But, for the same reason, we also need biofuels – in other words, an energy carrier that existing vehicles fitted with combustion engines can use without continuing to pollute the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. And while we are using biofuels, there will be no great urgency to develop new vehicle technologies.

Arguments about net zero

The Bellona article refutes our argument that using biofuels in cars can be described as ‘green’. The authors argue that emission reduction data resulting from the production and use of biodiesel is misleading.

Our response to this is as follows: Neither electric cars nor those powered by biofuels offer solutions that result in net zero emissions. As yet, neither batteries nor biofuels can be produced without one or another of the stages in the manufacturing process emitting greenhouse gases.

However, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Norwegian Environment Agency and the International Energy Agency have all stated very clearly that biofuels, in the same way as electric cars, can nevertheless contribute towards the planet achieving net zero. 

Stringent regulatory approval

In the Bellona article, following their introductory claims regarding emissions data, the authors go on to discuss the relative sustainabilities of biofuel sources. This is an important discussion, which addresses in particular the importance of harvesting the raw materials for bioethanol and biodiesel production without compromising biodiversity or food production.

Our argument is that emphasis must also be placed on the concept of social sustainability. This includes considering factors such as equal access to resources and other benefits. When we select technologies for energy production, we should also be considering the extent to which these are dependent on rare earth minerals – resources that are unevenly distributed across the planet.  

The Norwegian authorities have now developed a stringent regulatory framework designed to ensure that the production of biofuels does not take place at the expense of biodiversity or food production.

Use Norwegian sources!

Moreover, as part of the so-called Hurdal policy platform, the Norwegian government has placed emphasis on ensuring that  biofuels used in Norway must be manufactured from Norwegian raw materials. As we pointed out in an article published in the Norwegian business daily Dagens Næringsliv last autumn, sustainable Norwegian fuels are important for three reasons.

Firstly, it will be easier for us in Norway to determine the ethical standards regulating the fuels we use. Secondly, they offer us a level of fuel supply security in a world characterised by geopolitical instability. And last, but not least, domestic production will open the door to exciting opportunities for the Norwegian energy and supply sectors.

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