The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels last week released Version 0.0 of its “Global Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Biofuels Production.” This diverse group includes representatives from World Wildlife Federation, BP, Bunge, the Dutch Ministry of Housing and the Environment, the Forest Stewardship Council, the University of California at Berkeley and the World Economic Forum. They have been hard at work for the past year establishing an objective framework for enabling a true cost benefit analysis of biofuels that incorporates environmental, economic and social justice criteria. They welcome input into their process and have opened the document for six months of feedback which can be provided via www.bioenergywiki.net
Hopefully, this process will yield substantial success. As an early participant in the US biodiesel industry, I can attest that the benefits of biofuels appeared quite compelling and almost self-evident as compared to conventional petroleum fuel. Those in the industry with a strong interest in environmental issues typically considered corn ethanol and soy biodiesel as transition fuels that would establish the viability of a more diverse transportation energy portfolio by leveraging the existing farm economy. After market entry with these transition fuels, the road would be paved for superior feedstocks as we are witnessing today with cellulosic material, waste feedstock material and even algae.
In retrospect, the Roundtable of Sustainable Biofuels should have been founded a decade ago rather than last year. With an earlier start, such an organization might have achieved great progress in injecting some objective criteria into the “food vs. fuel” debate and propelled the industry in a more sustainable direction. In the absence of these criteria, some of the debaters have used these crucial (and emotional) issues to advance their own agendas and the biofuels industry has lacked the framework to establish its own best practices.