October 4, 2007 (Mongabay.com) Growing demand for biodiesel could drive large-scale forest conversion for energy crops, warns a study published in Conservation Biology. With petroleum supplies expected to peak in the next 5-30 years and growing concern over climate change, biodiesel production may expand by 100-fold by 2050, estimates Lian Pin Koh, a researcher from Princeton University. Koh says that much of this expansion could come at the expense of forests, but the degree of which depends on the feedstocks used. Energy crops like palm oil are significantly more productive than more widely used rapeseed — which currently accounts for 84 percent of biodiesel production — but are more likely to be established in carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems like the tropical forests of southeast Asia. As such, the environmental trade-off between feedstocks is complex.
Analyzing yields and planting trends for four major biodiesel feedstocks — rapeseed, sunflower seed, oil palm and soybean — and projecting future demand for biodiesel, Koh calculates land requirements for various crops to meet projected demand for biofuels.