The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has opened a public consultation on the potential of new types of biofuels, such as fuel produced by algae, to provide renewable energy.
At present most biofuels are produced from food crops such as sugar cane, soy bean and wheat. In many cases their net greenhouse gas emissions are not much better than those of fossil fuels.
There has also been concerns about the impact of biofuel production on food availability and its direct and indirect contribution to deforestation.
Professor Joyce Tait, chair of the Council’s Working Party on biofuels, said alternatives like algae and waste offered the hope of more sustainable biofuels.
'Research into new types of biofuels is looking more promising. Rather than using food crops to produce biofuels, in the future we may be able to use algae, trees, the inedible ‘woody’ parts of plants, and agricultural waste.
'But before these new types of biofuels are brought into wider use, we are considering their potential to meet our energy needs, support economic development and, along with changes in lifestyle, help address climate change in an ethical and sustainable way.
'We need to think early about how we can avoid the problems of first generation biofuels,' she said.
Professor Tait admitted existing biofuel production had caused social problems such as the displacement of local communities and conflict over land rights that needed to be avoided with next generation biofuels.
'We want to ensure that the ethical dimension is taken into account. We want to see that the production of new types of biofuels, especially in developing counties, has a positive effect on local communities and supports economic development by creating jobs and new sources of income.'
The Council says it wants to hear from the public about how best to promote, incentivise and regulate the new types of biofuels such as algae. The deadline for responses is 15th March 2010.
Public consultation on biofuels
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