Weedy biofuels

Our Work  |  Biosecurity

If dangerous climate change is to be averted, greenhouse gas emissions must be cut.

Alternatives to fossil fuels have a major role to play, but alternative energy sources can create problems of their own — nuclear power plants generate dangerous radioactive wastes, and poorly located windfarms kill birds and bats. Ecologist David Ehrenfield has described such problems as ‘friendly fire’.

Plant-derived substitutes for petroleum — known as biofuels — have been touted as an important part of the solution to climate change. But they also have the potential to cause friendly fire problems, and some of them seem likely to do more harm than good.

The weedy truth about biofuels

In our report, The Weedy Truth About Biofuels, the Invasive Species Council warns that most plants being promoted as biofuels in Australia are serious weeds that should not be grown.

Launching the report at the Greenhouse 2007 climate change conference in Sydney, the report’s author and ISC spokesperson Tim Low warned that Australia should not try to solve one environmental problem by creating another.

“These plants have no proven value as biofuel crops but bad reputations as weeds.”

Seven plants considered promising as biofuels are banned as noxious weeds in parts of Australia – jatropha, spartina, castor oil plant, Chinese apple, olive, willows, and poplars.

Another two species – giant reed and spartina – appear on the World Conservation Union’s ‘List of 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Species’. Giant reed is now on trial as a biofuel crop in South Australia, despite the enormous weed problems it causes around the world. In California alone, many millions of dollars are spent each year destroying it.

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