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Certification Systems Can Help Fuel Buyers Source Sustainable Biofuels

Strong certification systems can allow fuel buyers to support biofuels producers that take steps to protect the environment and help grow a biofuels industry that provides environmental benefits, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The report, Biofuel Sustainability Performance Guidelines, comes as large fuel consumers begin to pivot toward more plant-based fuel options to boost their sustainability efforts and credentials while reducing their use of fossil fuels. The report is intended to help guide fuel buyers such as federal, state and municipal bulk fuel procurement officers, contractors and suppliers, and corporate sustainability officers.

Although burning biofuels often is better than burning fossil fuels, producing them can harm air quality, water, soil, wildlife habitat, rural development and food security. The report shows how federal agencies and other large commercial customers can buy sustainably produced biofuels and avoid those linked to major deforestation, destroyed wildlife habitat and fouled waterways.

Today, many large fuel buyers are beginning to understand the risks of poorly sourced biofuels, but are unable to determine whether their biofuels are produced sustainably.Third-party certification systems can provide this service, but vary significantly in stringency and protectiveness. A sound certification system should check each stage for impacts on water quality, soil, biodiversity, air quality, land use, and waste. It also should check for the social impacts on economic issues, human rights, food security, and workforce safety, according to NRDC.

To help stakeholders, NRDC’s report examined seven leading programs that certify biofuel production practices for sustainability. The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials ranked best, for helping to ensure economic, environmental and social sustainability of biofuels production practices in places such as the United States, Indonesia, South America and Asia.

Last month, 12 leading US companies — including GM, HP, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Novelis and Sprint — signed the Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, created by the WWF and the WRI, to better communicate their purchasing needs and expectations to the marketplace. Looking to increase availability of cost-competitive renewable energy to run their businesses, the companies are hoping the principles will open up new opportunities for collaboration with utilities and energy suppliers to increase their ability to buy renewable energy.

According to the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), the global production of biofuels has increased by over 600 percent in a decade, to more than 100 billion liters in 2011. However, the overall sustainability of biofuels as a renewable energy source has been hampered by, among other things, the water-intensiveness of their production. Researchers from the University of Porto, Portugal, in April announced they are exploring water-free methods for purifying biofuels, including those made from waste cooking oils, animal fats and other fatty industrial wastes.


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