Biox: dead man walking

Instant transformation of corporate image from good to bad. How do you do it? Simple, just add palm oil.

Yahoo News reports,

Palm oil is attractive because it is relatively abundant, cheap at about $550 per ton, and requires few or no modifications to existing power stations.

Unlike carbon-rich fossil fuels, palm oil is considered carbon-neutral, meaning the carbon emitted from burning it is the same as what is absorbed during growth.

But the result of intensified farming has been to unleash far more greenhouse gases than will be saved at power stations.

The report issued late last year by Wetlands International, Delft Hydraulics and the Alterra Research Center of Wageningen University in Holland studied the carbon released from peat swamps in Indonesia and Malaysia that had been drained and burned to plant palm oil trees. About 85 percent of the world’s palm oil comes from the two countries, and about one-quarter of Indonesia’s plantations are on drained peat bogs, the report said.

The four-year study found that 600 million tons of carbon dioxide seep into the air each year from the drained swamps. Another 1.4 billion tons go up in smoke from fires lit to clear rain forest for plantations — smoke that often shrouds Singapore and Malaysia in an impenetrable haze for weeks at a time.

Together, those 2 billion tons of CO2 account for 8 percent of the world’s fossil fuel emissions, the report said.

Friends of the Earth, another environmental group, called the report “astonishing,” and said it shows that harvesting palm oil for fuel is counterproductive. “It undermines the whole project,” said a climate specialist for the group, Anne van Schaik.

Other power generating companies have stopped burning palm oil, but not the Dutch company Biox.

Biox, a Dutch startup, said it plans careful scrutiny of palm oil sources but will proceed with construction of three 50 megawatt power stations that burn palm oil byproducts exclusively. That’s enough electricity to light all the homes in Amsterdam.

“From the start, we knew we can’t stay in business if we can’t prove that production is sustainable,” said Biox executive Arjen Brinkmann. “Until this report came out, peat lands was not an issue because we hadn’t heard of it. Nobody had heard,” he said, adding that it will now be a factor in the company’s sustainability criteria.

Biox is privately held. Too bad, it would no doubt have been an edifying experience to observe the short selling feeding frenzy.

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