Thursday, October 11, 2007

Biofuels -will they impact on water?

Green energy, blue impacts:Biofuels aggravate water scarcity

In the biofuel discussion, water has not received the attention it deserves. It is high time it does.
Pursuing biofuels in water short countries turns green energy into a blue threat.

A recent scenario analysis by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) indicates that biofuels will add to the strain on already stressed water resources.

Biofuel production will increase demand for land at the expense of nature.

It will also require large quantities of water, already a major constraint to agriculture in many parts of the world.

An estimated 40% of the world’s population lives in areas where water scarcity must be reckoned with. IWMI’s research under the Comprehensive Assessment of Water Mangement in Agriculture shows that at a global average, the biomass needed to produce one litre of biofuel evaporates between 1000 and 3,500 liters of water, under prevailing conversion techniques.

IWMI uses the WATERSIM model consisting of two integrated hydrological and economic modules to support its analysis. Using this model, IWMI has explored the water and land implications of increased biofuel production globally with a special focus on two countries : India and China. In India more than 60% of the cereals are irrigated. In China, more than 70%.

Almost all Indian sugarcane - the crop that India uses to produce ethanol - and about 45% of Chinese maize – China’s main biofuel crop - is irrigated. Both countries, responding to severe water shortages, initiated large projects to transfer water from water abundant to water short areas. These projects are controversial because of their costs, environmental impacts, and number of displaced people by big dams.

Charlotte de Fraiture, an IWMI scientist and lead author of the biofuels study says, “Biofuel production in China and India raises special concerns, because the crops to be used for biofuels—maize in China and sugarcane in India—would rely mainly on irrigation. “Even without increased biofuel production, water scarcity in these countries will worsen, as rising incomes and growing populations boost food demand.”

India and China have set ambitious goals for biofuel production to curb their rapidly growing appetites for fossil fuel imports.

Together, they account for almost 70pc of projected worldwide growth in oil demand between now and 2030.

Yet, the two countries are already struggling to find enough water to grow the food they need.

The survey also found, however, that at the global level, the rush to boost production of ethanol from crops like maize and sugarcane will most likely have only a modest impact on water use and food systems.

The report focuses on the many areas where water is already scarce, with special focus on China and India.

Unless other less water intensive alternatives are considered, the conclusion is that biofuels are not environmentally sustainable in India and China. Discussions on biofuel energy should put green energy into a blue context and take water issues into account.

While this may not be the same in other countries, particularly if crops are not irrigated, it is the outcome for these two countries where biofuel is being increased. India also has potential to develop other crops including Jatropha [ see this blog] that are labour intensive, but do not use valuable cropland or water.

The real issue is that energy use is likely to affect food production.

For more information

Also see :Linkages between Energy and Water Management for Agriculture in Developing Countries - Conference Papers (January 2007)

[partially sourced from IWMI]

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