Rapeseed is a flowering plant in the Brassicacae family that is a major global source of vegetable oil. Rapeseed oil is the most common feedstock for biodiesel in Europe, especially in Germany. "Canola" is a common North American cultivar of rapeseed.
Biodiesel from rapeseed
- In the United States, rapeseed is a minor source of biodiesel. U.S. production of biodiesel in 2007 is estimated to have been 85% from soybeans; 5-12% from waste oil, cottonseed, canola, and palm oil; with the remaining 3-10% coming from animal fats, according to the National Biodiesel Board.
- Herbicide-resistant genetically modified varieties of rapeseed were first introduced in 1995 . For a summary statement of risks associated with genetically engineered crops used to produce biofuels, including rapeseed, visit the Biotechnologies page.
- While oil from rapeseed can be used for biofuels, this plant is not as productive as alternatives like oil palm, which is a much more efficient producer of oil and requires less land than any other oil-producing crop. One hectare planted with oil palm yields an average of three tonnes of oil per year. To produce that much oil from canola, sunflower or soy, up to ten times more land would be required. (However, palm oil plantations have been associated with destruction of rainforests.)
- 16-17 June 2010, Barcelona, Spain: European Biodiesel 2010. (Themes: algae, biodiesel, Europe, feedstocks, rapeseed)
- Canola Council - "represents canola growers, input suppliers, researchers, processors and marketers of canola and its products".
- Biodiesel doubts threaten EU green transport targets, 5 March 2012 by Reuters: "The European Union will almost certainly miss its 2020 targets for cutting transport fuel emissions if policymakers act on scientific warnings about the climate impact of biofuels."
- "Several EU studies have questioned the climate benefits of biodiesel made from European rapeseed and imported palm oil and soybeans, and some have warned that it releases as many climate-warming emissions as conventional diesel...."
- "If the EU penalises crop-specific biofuels for their estimated ILUC emissions, any incentive for governments and oil firms to promote biodiesel from rapeseed, palm oil and soybeans would disappear...."
- "The Commission has already drafted two compromise proposals on ILUC without reaching an agreement on either, reflecting deep internal divisions on the issue."
- "The deal now under discussion would penalise biofuels for their crop-specific ILUC emissions in the fuel quality law but not the renewable energy directive, removing the incentive for oil companies to buy biodiesel without excluding it entirely...."
- EU biofuel targets will cost €126 billion without reducing emissions, 2 February 2012 by Friends of the Earth Europe: "Motorists across Europe are set to pay an additional €18 billion a year for petrol and diesel as a result of EU biofuel targets that have been shown not to reduce emissions, says new research published today."
- "New figures, commissioned by Friends of the Earth Europe and ActionAid, show that the planned increase in biofuels use could cost European consumers an extra €94 to €126 billion between now and 2020. This despite evidence that biofuels will actually make climate change worse and increase global hunger...."
- "Biofuels have been promoted as a ‘green’ alternative to climate-damaging fossil fuels, but studies for the European Commission confirm that that the EU’s projected use of biofuels could actually increase emissions – particularly where countries rely on biodiesel from palm oil, soy and rapeseed...."
- Download the report, EU wide extrapolation of UK cost of biofuels calculations (PDF file).
- Biodiesel industry rejects EU land use impact study, 7 October 2011 by Reuters: "Europe's biodiesel industry rejected the findings of a draft EU study showing that the cultivation of rapeseed to make road transport fuels is worse for the climate than using conventional diesel."
- "The European Biodiesel Board (EBB) said on Friday the study's central finding -- that the effects of indirect land use to produce most types of biodiesel cancel out any theoretical emissions savings -- was 'highly debatable and unscientific.'"
- "A series of leaked EU studies showed that biodiesel from European rapeseed, South American soy beans and Asian palm oil all have a greater overall climate impact that normal diesel."
- "If the Commission follows the advice contained in the studies and penalizes individual biofuel crops on the basis of their estimated ILUC emissions, it could wipe out the bloc's 13 billion euro ($17.5 billion) biodiesel industry overnight."
- "It would also give a boost to ethanol producers such as Spain's Abengoa and increase the market for fuels derived from Brazilian sugar cane as the EU seeks to fill the 80 percent gap in its biofuel market currently occupied by biodiesel."
- Climate impact threatens biodiesel future in EU, 8 July 2011 by Reuters: "Europe's world-leading $13 billion biodiesel industry, which has boomed in the wake of a decision by Brussels policymakers in 2003 to promote it, is now on the verge of being legislated out of existence after the studies revealed biodiesel's indirect impact cancels out most of its benefits."
- "Biofuels were once seen as a silver bullet for curbing transport emissions, based on a theory that they only emit as much carbon as they absorbed during growth."
- "But that has been undermined by a new concept known as 'indirect land-use change' (ILUC), which scientists are still struggling to accurately quantify."
- "'The experts unanimously agreed that, even when uncertainties are high, there is strong evidence that the ILUC effect is significant,' said the report from the Commission's November workshop."
- "Biodiesel from Asian palm oil, South American soy beans, and EU rapeseed all had a bigger overall climate impact than conventional diesel, said a fourth leaked document."
- "'Ethanol feedstocks have a lower land use change effect than the biodiesel feedstocks. For ethanol, sugar beet has the lowest land use emission coefficients,' said [an] IFPRI report."
- "The Commission's impact analysis predicts EU demand for biodiesel will collapse if their indirect impacts are taken into account in EU legislation. But at the same time it sees a sharp rise in demand for bioethanol from cereal crops and sugarcane, as well as advanced biodiesel produced from algae."
- Rush to Use Crops as Fuel Raises Food Prices and Hunger Fears, 7 April 2011 by the New York Times: "Each year, an ever larger portion of the world’s crops — cassava and corn, sugar and palm oil — is being diverted for biofuels as developed countries pass laws mandating greater use of nonfossil fuels and as emerging powerhouses like China seek new sources of energy to keep their cars and industries running. Cassava is a relatively new entrant in the biofuel stream."
- "But with food prices rising sharply in recent months, many experts are calling on countries to scale back their headlong rush into green fuel development, arguing that the combination of ambitious biofuel targets and mediocre harvests of some crucial crops is contributing to high prices, hunger and political instability."
- "'The fact that cassava is being used for biofuel in China, rapeseed is being used in Europe, and sugar cane elsewhere is definitely creating a shift in demand curves,' said Timothy D. Searchinger, a research scholar at Princeton University who studies the topic. 'Biofuels are contributing to higher prices and tighter markets.'"
- Bristol's biofuels plant must be refused planning permission, 10 February 2011 by The Guardian: "Burning biofuels in power stations is environmental vandalism on a staggering scale."
- "The operators have two options. They could burn the cheapest available vegetable oils, which means palm and soya oil. These are also the most destructive: driving massive deforestation in both south-east Asia and the Amazon"
- "Alternatively, the operators could burn cheaper oils, such as rapeseed. In doing so, they cause two problems. The first is to raise world food prices. The second is to create a vacuum in the world edible oils market, which is filled by … palm and soya oil."
- "Whichever kind of vegetable oil you burn, you'll end up trashing the rainforests of Indonesia, Malaysia and Brazil."
- "Somehow the government still classes burning edible oils to make electricity as green, and issues renewables obligations certificates for it – which is the only reason why it's happening."
- Germany relaxes rule on biofuel sustainability, 15 December 2010 by Michael Hogan: "Germany has temporarily relaxed rules requiring raw materials for biofuels come from sustainable output, a move which industry bodies said on Wednesday will smooth imports of rapeseed and rapeseed oil for biodiesel use."
- "The directive aims to protect tropical rain forests being cut down for biofuel crop production. But German industry associations had feared the failure of other EU states to implement the rule on time would mean Germany would not have been able to import non-certified rapeseed and rapeseed oil from other EU states in 2011."
- "Germany imports about two million tonnes of rapeseed annually for food and biodiesel production."
- "'The change is limited to June 2011 so we now hope that other EU states will also introduce the EU directive otherwise we will be faced with the problem again,' the UFOP spokesman said."
- Researchers Debate Whether Biofuels Are Truly Greener Than Fossil Fuels, 21 November 2010 by Loren Grush: "The ETC Group, an international organization supporting sustainability and conservation, has just published its newest report, an 84-page document that presents a lengthy criticism of "the new bioeconomy." In it, principal author Jim Thomas argues that using biofuels for energy and resources isn't green -- in fact, he says, in certain ways they can be more harmful to the environment than coal."
- "But other scientists say the biofuel economy is complex, and they note that it's hard to lump absolutely everything labeled biomass together."
- "'One needs to recognize that all biofuels are not the same. The current generation is based on corn in the U.S., based on wheat and rapeseed in Europe,' Dr. Madhu Khanna, a professor of agriculture at the University of Illinois, told FoxNews.com."
- "But even among the first generation, there is also sugarcane, which is a much cleaner fuel, and Brazil has a lot of available land for sugarcane production. You're able to expand without coming into conflict with food production. So you don't hear the same criticism necessarily about sugarcane."
- "Thomas is adamant that land use will become a massive issue for the biomass industry. "This isn't a switch, it's a massive grab on land," he said. "This movement to a plant-based, or so-called green economy, will throw a lot of people off their land in the developing world."
- Biofuels cause four times more carbon emissions, 22 April 2010 by the Telegraph (UK): A "new report commissioned in Brussels found some biofuels can lead to four times more carbon dioxide polluting the atmosphere than equivalent fossil fuels."
- "The report for the European Commission, released under Freedom of Information rules, looked into the 'indirect emissions' from biofuels caused by land use change. The worse example is soy beans in America. Because the land that used to grow soy beans for animal feed is now being used for biofuels, it means that more soy beans must be grown in the rainforests of Brazil to make up for the loss in the domestic market."
- "Soybeans grown in America therefore have an indirect carbon footprint of 340kg of CO2 per gigajoule, compared to just 85kg for conventional diesel or gasoline."
- "Biodiesel from European rapeseed has an indirect carbon footprint of 150kg of CO2 per gigajoule, while bioethanol from European sugar beet is calculated at 100kg – both much higher than conventional diesel because of indirect use of land in other countries to replace the food crops that are no longer grown in Europe."
- "By contrast, imports of bioethanol from Latin American sugar cane and palm oil from southeast Asia have relatively low indirect emissions at 82kg and 73kg per gigajoule respectively."
- Read the full report, Quantification of the effects on greenhouse gas emissions of policies and measures (PDF file)
- Solix Biofuels begins production of oil made from algae, 23 July 2009 by Denver Business Journal: Solix Biofuels Inc., a Colorado State University startup company, "has started the production of oil made from algae."
- Camelina could lead drive for new source of biofuel 28 May 2007 from the Tri-City Herald. Camelina, "a plant that flourished in Europe roughly 3,500 years ago could become a major source of biofuel and a potentially major new crop" in the US. Camelina may be able to "grow in more arid conditions, and does not require extensive use of expensive fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and may produce more oil from its seeds than other crops such as canola and at, by some estimates, half the price".
- Farmers eye oilseed plants for biodiesel, 25 April 2007, by Associated Press, reports that farmers in California are investigating growing crops for biofuel, such as canola "on unproductive land that can't support higher-value produce" or "as a cover crop that might improve soil quality between more profitable plantings of berries or leafy greens."
- Even if successful, however, the economic benefit may be limited, as the article stated: "A typical biodiesel crop could earn California growers a maximum of $200 an acre each year — far less than their current average annual yield of $2,000 an acre, said Robert Van Buskirk, a scientist with the U.S. Department of Energy."
| Biodiesel production | Biodiesel companies |
Biodiesel producers by country | Biodiesel organizations
|Biodiesel feedstocks: Currently in use: soybeans | palm oil | coconut oil | rapeseed | sunflower seed | castor beans | jatropha | karanj | jojoba | waste vegetable oil | animal fat|
| Currently in research and development: algae | halophytes (saltwater plants)|
What is bioenergy? | Benefits/Risks | Who is doing what?