Palm Oil Emissions
Is Palm-based Biodiesel Worse Than Oil Sands?
According to a new study published in the journal Global Change Biology: Bioenergy, greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil production have been severely underestimated. It turns out palm oil biofuels could actually be more damaging to the environment than oil sands production.
A major factor in the greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil production comes from when peat swamps are initially drained for palm-based agriculture. When the peat starts decomposing, it creates massive amounts of carbon-based emissions.
The industrial plantations for palm oil production are mostly located on the island of Sumatra (62%) and over two-thirds of the plantations were developed for palm oil cultivation. Satellite images of the peatlands on Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo from 2010 show it has a cumulative area larger than Belgium. The annual carbon emissions from peat decomposition from this huge area are put around 230-310 Mt CO2e.
In addition, this study’s release happens to coincide with the close of the comment period on a new EPA analysis of the carbon intensity of palm oil biodiesel.
The EPA concluded the lifecycle greenhouse gas analyses on the palm oil-based biodiesel and renewable diesel derived from palm oil had 17% and 11% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions respectively, which does not meet the minimum amount of 20% used in the Renewable Fuel Standard program. A bit more than half of the greenhouse gas emissions for these biofuels came from land use change.
While the palm oil industry is protesting these findings, even if more up-to-date information were to be used, the rate of peatland destruction still suggests palm oil biodiesel is more environmentally damaging than Canadian oil sands.
Enjoy this article? Get even more in our FREE newsletter!
After getting your report, you’ll begin receiving the Green Chip Stocks e-Letter, delivered to your inbox daily.