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UC Berkeley Press Release

Policy expert appointed to intl. biofuels panel

– Alex Farrell, an assistant professor of energy and resources at the University of California, Berkeley, has been named to a new international panel of environmental, energy, economic and cultural experts to develop standards by which nations and consumers can judge biofuels and their impact on the environment and society.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, announced today (Tue., April 17) in Lausanne, Switzerland, along with 21 founding members of its Steering Board, will draft a global standard methodology for determining the social and environmental impacts, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions efficiency, of specific technologies for producing and processing biofuels. The roundtable is hosted by the Energy Center at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic University at Lausanne.

"Many people are worried about biofuels contributing to deforestation and air pollution in the name of protecting the planet," said Claude Martin, former director of WWF International and chair of the roundtable's Steering Board. "Companies and farmers want global rules that they can follow. The Roundtable will bring together all of these actors to start writing these rules together, to ensure that biofuels deliver on their promise of sustainability."

"Biofuels can contribute to energy and environmental goals, but only if we pay attention to how they are produced and require environmentally friendly methods," said Farrell, who is an expert on energy systems analysis and energy policy. "This roundtable will help ensure that new supplies of biofuels can be certified to have low greenhouse gas emissions, and can thus help the state meet the Low Carbon Fuel Standard at affordable prices."

Other steering board members appointed today include representatives from Toyota Motor Europe, BP, the National Wildlife Federation, the Dutch and Swiss governments, the UN Foundation, Petrobras (a Brazilian national oil company), the World Economic Forum, and non-governmental organizations from Mali, India and Brazil. Ultimately, the roundtable aims to include global and local non-governmental organizations, corporations, energy producers, academics, and government entities to ensure a balance of opinions and perspectives.

"This represents the next step in development of international standards for sustainable biofuel production," Farrell said. "The important thing about this roundtable is that it's not just consuming countries talking to one another, but consuming and producing countries like Brazil, and energy companies as well. It raises the issue to a higher level of visibility and begins a dialogue between developed and developing counties on how to sustainably produce biofuels."

The need for environmentally-friendly biofuels is obvious in California to help meet the state's energy security goals and at the same time fight global warming, Farrell noted. He was named in February by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to lead a joint UC Berkeley/UC Davis effort to develop California's low carbon fuel standard, the first such standard in the world.

Despite great interest in biofuels, such as ethanol, by both industry and consumers, biofuels can either be good or bad for the environment, depending on how they are manufactured. Growing crops for biofuels can have negative impacts, including clearance of valuable forests for cropland, soil erosion, use of energy-intense fertilizers, and reduction in the amount of land available for food production, Farrell said. Many European countries, for example, are worried about the leveling of the Amazonian rain forest to plant palm plantations for the harvesting of palm oil to produce biodiesel.

"Consumers today have no way of knowing which is which and acting accordingly because there are no standards or requirements for labeling the environmental impacts of biofuels," he said.

Farrell said he hopes that the roundtable will "establish workable rules for sustainable biofuels, so that U.S. producers, both in California and the Midwest, can compete in energy markets without harming food supplies or the environment. It represents the next step past low-carbon fuels, towards truly sustainable transportation."

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels aims to develop draft standards through a global feedback process by early 2008, in time for discussion at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Its steering board will invite interested parties to develop and comment on principles and standards related to biofuels' environmental and social impacts, as well as to overall greenhouse gas benefits. Areas of interest will include the protection of biodiversity and labor rights, and the encouragement of biofuels' contribution to economic development in rural areas. The roundtable will gather opinions and feedback through online technology, conference calls and regional meetings to ensure that developing countries can participate in the process.

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