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Online ISSN: 1757-1707
Associated Title(s): Global Change Biology
Sustainability of palm oil biodiesel
In Indonesia, biodiesel produced from oil palms helps meet local energy demands and act as a major contributor to economic growth, yet little is known about the environmental soundness of its production under different farming systems and in different regions.
Using a life cycle analysis, Harsono and coauthors assessed palm oil biodiesel for its greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and energy balance, the relation between energy produced and energy consumed for production. The life cycle analysis included data from all of the steps of production: conversion of different ecosystem types to palm plantations (land-use change), agricultural work, transportation, and processing into biodiesel.
The authors considered production in two regions of Indonesia, each with differing ecological environments, socioeconomic settings, infrastructures and plantation operating experience. They also considered three categories of farming systems: 1) company-owned plantations, 2) family owned farms operated in conjunction with a larger company (dependent smallholder), and 3) family owned and operated independent smallholder farms.
Despite the differences between locations and farming systems, the authors found that GHG emissions from palm oil biodiesel production were reduced relative to fossil fuels and the energy balance remained positive. Company plantations had the highest net energy yields followed by dependent and then independent smallholder farms. GHG emissions were inversely proportional to farming system yield; company plantations had the highest GHG emissions followed by dependent, then independent smallholder farms. Surprisingly, only dependent smallholder plantations from one location could meet the European target of emission savings, with the other production systems generating no savings at all.
When peatland or natural rainforests were converted to palm oil plantations, GHG emissions were at their highest. From these results, the authors suggest that GHG emissions can be reduced by minimizing land use change.
Harsono, S. S., Prochnow, A., Grundmann, P., Hansen, A. and Hallmann, C. (2011), Energy balances and greenhouse gas emissions of palm oil biodiesel in Indonesia. GCB Bioenergy. doi: 10.1111/j.1757-1707.2011.01118.x Read this paper.