Hardy Plant May Ease Biofuels' Burden on Food Costs

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
April 21, 2008

The biofuels boom is causing a spike in food prices worldwide, hitting developing countries particularly hard, experts say.

Ahead of Earth Day, major oil producers and consumers blamed biofuels for the current global food crisis at the International Energy Forum today in Rome, the AFP news service reported.

That's because agricultural land on which food crops used to be grown is increasingly being converted for biofuel crop production.

Many experts have also become concerned about biofuels' questionable green credentials.

However, some in the industry argue that there are biofuel crops that don't require agricultural land.

As former chairperson of one of the world's largest oil companies, Lord Ronald Oxburgh has staked his future on this form of alternative energy.

Oxburgh stresses that jatropha—a hardy plant from which his company, D1 Oils, extracts oil to make biodiesel—will not compete with food for land, nutrients, or water.

"Biofuels are getting a bad name because people are using food crops to produce them," said Oxburgh, who served as the part-time, nonexecutive chairperson of Royal Dutch/Shell from 2004 to 2005.

"But jatropha grows on marginal or degraded land where not much else will really grow."

Biofuel Concerns

High oil prices and concerns about global warming have fueled demand for renewable energy sources such as biofuels, which can be made from almost anything that grows.

One form of biofuel, biodiesel, is commonly made from palm oil and can be used to power diesel-engine vehicles.

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