Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Palm Oil Action Australia | May 21, 2022

Scroll to top


Palm Oil Bio Fuel


Why palm oil should not be used as a bio diesel

As the burning of fossil fuels for transport is a significant contributor to global greenhouse emissions, the use of biofuels has been promoted as an effective way of reducing global emissions.

However, any analysis of the benefits of biofuels needs to include not just its actual use in a vehicle, but also the emissions created during the complete production cycle of that biofuel. It also needs to look at the wider economic and social picture surrounding a particular biofuel and its feedstock.

“It is clear that in the absence of low emissions or emissions free transport solutions (that do not have indirect negative impacts elsewhere), the simple solution to reducing transport emissions is to drive less, and develop the public transport system.”

Oles Krolikowski, Earth Rescue. September 2008

“In 1992, as I flew into Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, I gazed out at the expanse of oil-palm plantations surrounding almost the entire city and wanted to weep. I knew I was looking at the future landscape of Central Kalimantan in Indonesia. The Government of Central Kalimantan had just indicated it was going to encourage oil-palm plantations throughout the entire province to supplant the declining forestry sector.”

Prof Biruté Galdikas, Orangutan Foundation International

Read David Suzukis views on biofuel.

Watch a short video on palm oil, biofuel and global warming.

See the Greenpeace ad run in major UK newspapers in May 2007

Detriment out weighs the benefits

The energy saved from using Palm oil as a substitute for coal is questionable considering the high energy costs involved with transportation and storage. Moreover, clearing one hectare of tropical forest releases between 500 and 900 tonnes of CO2 emissions. As converting a hectare of palm oil into biodiesel saves approximately six tonnes of CO2 emissions annually, it takes 80 to 150 years of production to offset the initial emissions released from deforestation.

[accordion-item title=”Impacts on the environment”]
The palm oil industry is causing environmental devastation, social breakdown, health problems, and massive habitat and species loss in Malaysia, Indonesia PNG and other parts of the world.

The impacts of the palm oil industry on Southeast Asian and other communities and forests is well documented. It is illogical and immoral that an environmentally friendly fuel be manufactured in Australia using a feedstock that is causing so much damage elsewhere in the world.
[accordion-item title=”Green house emissions”]

The use of palm oil-based biodiesel actually increases greenhouse emissions.

It is estimated that the use of Southeast Asian palm oil as a feedstock for biodiesel will actually increasegreenhouse gas emissions by at least 2 to 8 times more than those saved by using it as a fuel, compared to petroleum-based diesel. (Source: Jim Rowland, Biofuelwatch, Feb 2007).

Draining peatlands (which conservatively comprise at least 27% of Southeast Asian oil palm plantations) causes massive greenhouse emissions due to rapid peat decomposition (approx. 70 to 100 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year).

The drained peatlands are also susceptible to long burning fires that emit huge quantities of carbon dioxide.

Drying peatlands also release substantial quantities of methane, a gas with 23 times the global warming impact of CO2. The production of one tonne of palm oil results in approximately 33 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. By comparison the amount of fossil fuel required to generate the same amount of energy results in 3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Source:Wetlands International.

It is clear that if the very reason for using biofuels is to reduce global emissions, then any biofuel that increases them by any amount (let alone such a huge amount)  should not be supported.

[accordion-item title=”Biofuels in Europe”]

Whilst the EU has strongly supported the use of biofuels, announcing in February 2007 a binding minimum biofuel target of 10% by 2020, a number of reports outlining the devastating effects of the palm oil industry and forest and peat clearance have caused it to rethink this policy.

The EU Environment Commissioner announced in January 2008 that the EU would introduce a certification scheme for biofuels, and has promised a clampdown on biodiesel from palm oil.

[accordion-item title=”Biofuels in Australia”]

Compared to Europe and the US, the biofuel industry is only in its infancy in Australia. But with rising crude oil prices biofuels may become a viable economic alternative.

Australia’s Opportunity

The new Australian Government has the opportunity to follow Europe’s lead and introduce strict guidelines for the biofuels industry here, but they need to act now, before the industry gets too big, and it becomes more difficult to legislate.

[accordion-item title=”These guidelines should include the following”]

  1. Strict sustainability criteria for all biofuels sold or manufactured in Australia, to ensure that they have not originated from cleared forests. These criteria must also include the social and other environmental impacts of the biofuel’s production, and need to be independently assessed.
  2. The inclusion of all imported biofuels in the proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, unless the biofuel has originated from a country with a comparable carbon reduction or emissions trading scheme.
  3. Immediate removal of tax rebates through the Energy Grants Credit Scheme for all biofuels using palm oil as feedstock, unless it has been independently certified as originating from sustainable sources.


[accordion-item title=”Long-term Issues of Bio Fuel”]

Whilst biofuels in general are being promoted as an effective way to reduce transport emissions, there are long term issues surrounding their production and use:

  1. Feedstock production will put further pressure on dwindling water resources
  2. The need for more land for feedstock will put pressure on forests and uncleared land.
  3. More crops means more fertilisers, which create greenhouse emissions.
  4. Feedstock production will compete with food production, leading to higher food prices, as has already happened overseas.
  5. When the feedstock is a by-product of the food production process (such as corn stalks), the use of it to produce biofuel removes it from the natural organic cycle, (where it is used as nutrient for the new crop), and it still needs to be replaced with fertilisers.
  6. The general misconception of biofuel as a clean, green fuel may actually discourage people from making the required changes to their driving habits, and could lead to an increase in fuel use.


[accordion-item title=”Local Issues in Australia”]

Furthermore, there are problems surrounding the use of particular feedstocks in Australia:

  1. The large scale use of tallow (an animal fat) as feedstock for biodiesel, if it leads to a higher number of livestock, needs to be discouraged. The livestock industry as a whole is responsible for a huge 11.1% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions. (This is mainly due to the production of methane by livestock during digestion, and the breakdown of manure).
  2. The Victorian and NSW Governments announced in Nov 2007 an end to their moratoriums on GM canola. This brings them into line with Qld. WA, SA and Tasmania have announced that they will continue with their moratoriums on GM canola. As has been clearly demonstrated in the UK and the US, GM produce can cause major environmental problems, including a contamination of organic produce due to cross pollenation and widespread pollution (due to the necessity for massive increases in the use of pesticides for some varieties). GM crops can also have dangerous and unpredictable effects on insects, animals and humans. Whilst the use of canola for biofuels would lead to reduced local emissions, the introduction of GM varieties is fraught with danger, and should not be supported.


To address the need for greater understanding of biofuels impacts, Friends of the Earth US has developed the Global Biofuels Database, an online database that enables users to compare the environmental and social impacts of a wide range of transport biofuels.