The use of palm oil as a biofuel is underway in Malaysia. Putrajaya, south of Kuala Lumpur, is home to the first of what is expected to be many more petrol stations all over the country featuring the new biodiesel fuel. Known as B5 biodiesel, this petrol is described as "a blend of 95 percent diesel derived from petroleum and five percent biodiesel." The fuel has been tested since 2009 in diesel vehicles with no adverse effects, which has lead the way for the biodiesel to be mass produced. The only downside to this biodiesel is that it is more expensive to produce and is therefore more expensive to purchase, although the extra cost is absorbed by the government.
The B5 is marketed as a more ecofriendly, renewable form of fuel, as opposed to 100% petroleum based fuels. This makes it a highly enticing idea for companies and governments looking for relief from rising crude oil prices and global crude oil demand.
But is it worth it?
Palm oil demand is already rising, almost as much as crude oil. Previous blogs here on Ecomerge have shown how many companies use palm oil in production in some way or another. If the demand for palm oil as a fuel source grows, the supply will have to expand to do so. And that means more plantations. More plantations means more land will have to be cleared where forests and natural ecosystems thrive.
Already, there are palm growers who are unscrupulously growing palm. They clearcut forests illegally, encroach on protected lands, and violate other laws, placing them in the category of "unsustainable" as well as criminal in some cases.
However, Malaysian Palm Oil Board Director General Datuk Dr. Choo Yuen May claims that this form of bio-fuel is "more environmentally friendly" than regular petroleum diesel. Greenpeace, however, disagrees. Greenpeace issued a statement back on 2007 saying: "Greenpeace is not against palm oil or the palm oil industry.... We are against the destruction of rainforests and the massive climate pollution that has resulted from the reckless expansion of palm plantations."
Though Malaysian officials claim no clear-cutting of Malaysian forests has occurred in over a decade, thats almost hard to believe, considering the value of the plant and the growing use of the oil. As shown in the image to the right, palm plantations seem to require a great amount of space to grow the plants. This puts more pressure on growers to grow more palm even faster and in higher volumes. And with the growing pressure, there is a higher possibility of more unscrupulous actions by palm producers that will harm the environment.
It remains to be seen how the use of palm oil as a bio fuel will effect the environment as well as the economy in the long-run. For now, palm oil as a bio fuel is a viable resource as a way to help quench the thirst for oil humans have. But we must keep in mind the possible ramifications of the widespread use of palm oil as a bio fuel.