The indirect effects of biofuels and what to do about them: the case of grass biomethane and its impact on livestock



Grass biomethane surpasses the 60% greenhouse gas (GHG) savings relative to the fossil fuel replaced required by EU Directive 2009/28/EC. However, there are growing concerns that when the indirect effects of biofuels are taken into account, GHG savings may become negative. There has been no research to date into the indirect effects of grass biomethane; this paper aims to fill that knowledge gap. A causal-descriptive assessment is carried out and identifies the likely indirect effect of a grass biomethane industry in Ireland as a reduction in beef exports to the UK. Three main scenarios are then analyzed: an increase in indigenous UK beef production, an increase in beef imported to the UK from other countries (EU, New Zealand and Brazil), and a decrease in beef consumption leading to increased poultry consumption. The GHG emissions from each of these scenarios are determined and the resulting savings relative to fossil diesel vary between –636% and 102%. The significance of the findings is then discussed. It is the view of the authors that, while consideration of indirect effects is important, an Irish grass biomethane industry cannot be held accountable for the associated emissions. A global GHG accounting system is therefore proposed; however, the difficulty of implementing such a system is acknowledged, as is its probable ineffectualness. Such a system would not treat the source of the problem – rising consumption. The authors conclude that the most effective method of combating the indirect effects of biofuels is a reduction in general consumption. © 2011 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd