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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Oil Palm Based Biofuel More Harmful Than Fossil Fuels: Researcher

PALEMBANG, Dec 8 -- The programme to develop palm oil as a non-polluting biofuel is a "myth" to justify expansion of oil palm plantations in Indonesia, a researcher from Sriwijaya University Julian Junaidi said.

"The burning of palm oil-based biofuel might not generate enviromment-damaging gas, and the process of turning palm oil into biofuel was much more harmful than the use of fossil fuels," Indonesia's Antara news agency reported, citing Julian as saying. Speaking at a dissussion on biofuel organized by the Indonesian Forum for the Evironment (Walhi) here Monday, he said the burning of one tonne of premium gasoline would cause 3.1 tonnes of carbon dioxide (C02) to escape into the atmosphere.

However, the process of turning one tonne of palm oil into biofuel would produce 33 tonnes of CO2. These facts showed that the use of palm-oil-based biofuel would contribute enormously to global warming, he said.

"Tragically, most of the activity to turn palm oil into biofuel is taking place in developing countries, where the oil palm plantations are located," Julian said. Apart from damaging the environment, he said, the program to develop biofuel from palm oil was also causing land disputes in the community. "The drive to expand oil palm plantations has already led to hundreds of land disputes because the expansion was done not on no- man's land but on people's farm land," he said. "Oil palm is not a renewable energy source. The price people have to pay for palm-oil-based biofuel is too high. Millions of hectares of forests are being cut down for a crop that eventually only contributes to ecological disasters," he said. Meanwhile, Anwar Sadat, director of Walhi's South Sumatra chapter, said the programme to develop biofuel from palm oil had induced the large-scale expansion of oil palm plantations. The oil palm growing frenzy to produce palm oil not only for households but also as biofuel for industry and transportation had led to degradation of people's forests and protected forests in South Sumatra's low lands. "The oil palm planting drive has also increased the frequency of social conflicts in the province.

According to Sawit Watch (an NGO), in 2003, oil palm plantation-related land disputes happened 140 times but the number rose almost four-fold to 513 in 2007." he said.