Stop biofuels: Keep food out of fuel tanks!

Photomontage: 15 combines in a wedge formation harvesting a soybean plantation. The outline of a gas pump can be seen in the harvested area. Soybean harvest in Brazil: soybean oil – together with palm, rapeseed and sunflower oil – is one of the most important raw materials for biodiesel. (© Collage RdR) Photomontage: fuel filler nozzle in front of a field of oil palm seedlings Thousands of oil palm seedlings for new plantations in the rainforest: palm oil is the main raw material for biodiesel. (© Globalfilm + Composer/Fotolia - Montage Sauvons la forêt) Photomontage: a dead-end traffic sign standing in front of a rainforest clearing © Rainforest Action Network - Montage Rettet den Regenwald - CC BY-NC 2.0

A variety of staple foods are in short supply and prices are soaring. The UN warns that this could lead to famine and uprisings in hard-hit parts of the world. Yet a number of countries continue to use millions of tons of grain, edible oils and sugar crops each year to produce biofuels.

Call to action

To: the governments of the United States, the European Union and its member states, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Canada, Malaysia and Argentina

“Staple foods such as grains and edible oils do not belong in vehicle fuel tanks. Put an end to the blending of biofuels.”

Read letter

According to the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme, more than 800 million people worldwide suffer from hunger and acute malnutrition and the number is in danger of rising sharply.

Despite the UN's warnings of severe supply bottlenecks and soaring prices for staple foods such as grains and cooking oils, some countries are still using millions of tons of food crops to produce biofuels for motor vehicles.

The United States, EU countries – especially Germany, France and Spain –, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Canada, Malaysia and Argentina together consume around one-tenth of the global grain harvest and one-third of sugar crops to produce ethanol, and one-fifth of the world’s vegetable oils for biodiesel.

Each year, around 110 billion liters of ethanol and 52 billion liters of biodiesel are produced and blended with fossil fuels in compliance with various national regulations.

The crops needed for biofuels occupy a significant land area – in Germany, for example, one fifth of all arable land is used for energy crops. Their cultivation also consumes enormous quantities of fertilizers, pesticides and water.

Biofuels are not climate-neutral and the inhospitable monocultures used to produce them are a major factor in the extinction crisis. In the tropics, the cultivation of oil palms, soybean and sugar cane for biofuel is driving the destruction of rainforests.

Instead of burning food crops as fuel, they could and should be used to feed millions of people and to stop food prices from exploding. No one should be denied the right to food and food sovereignty.

Please sign our petition calling on governments to end their irresponsible biofuel policies immediately.

Back­ground

According to the World Bank, food prices have been rising since mid-2020, and this development has been massively exacerbated by the Ukraine war. Prices for gasoline and diesel are also hitting all-time highs.

While a drastic reduction in biofuel production would have a major impact on food supply and prices, the impact on the fuel supply would be quite limited, as three senior officials of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) argue in the Financial Times. This is due to the very high energy consumption of motor vehicles, requiring large quantities of food crops to be converted into ethanol and biodiesel in order to achieve a very modest mileage.

Producing a single liter of ethanol takes about 2.5 kg of grain such as wheat – enough to feed one person for 4.5 days. One kg of wheat contains 3,580 calories, while an adult needs about 2,000 calories per day.

Ethanol contains one third less energy than gasoline, which is why vehicles fueled with a 10 percent ethanol blend attain 3 to 4 percent lower fuel efficiency than they would with pure gasoline. In some countries, such as Brazil, pure ethanol fuel is available for use in cars with special flex-fuel engines. One liter of pure ethanol gives a mid-size car a range of about 8.5 km. The ethanol produced from one kilogram of wheat can thus be used to travel about 3.4 kilometers in a car.

Ethanol and biodiesel and the required raw materials

Worldwide, 2.6 billion tons of grain and over 200 million tons of vegetable oils are produced every year (UFOP 2022 - linked report in German).

Ethanol

168 million tons of grains and sugar crops are required for the 110 billion liters of ethanol produced globally every year (2019). The raw materials for this are corn in the USA, sugar cane in Brazil, and mainly wheat, rye and barley in the EU.

Table 1: Ethanol production by country in 2019 (source: RAF, OECD quoted from UFOP 2022)

Country Ethanol production

in billions of liters

United States 59.7
Brazil 32.5
EU 5.2
China 3.8
Canada 2
India 1.9
Thailand 1.6
Argentina 1.1
Other countries 2.2
TOTAL 110

Biodiesel

For the 46 million tons of biodiesel (the equivalent of about 52 billion liters) produced annually (2019) worldwide, the raw materials used are:

  • 18 million tons of palm oil (39 percent)
  • 5 million tons of soybean oil (25 percent)
  • 4 million tons of rapeseed oil (14 percent)
  • 1 million tons of used cooking oil (11 percent)
  • 8 million tons of animal fats (6 percent)
  • 3 million tons of other materials (5 percent)

(Source: Oil World quoted from UFOP 2022, page 29).

Table 2: Biodiesel production by country in 2019 (source: Oil World quoted from UFOP 2022)

Country Biodiesel production

in millions of tons

Biodiesel production

in billions of liters

EU 15.1 17.2
Indonesia 7.5 8.6
United States 7.3 6.3
Brazil 5.2 5.9
Argentina 2.2 2.5
Singapore 1.8 2.1
Thailand 1.6 1.8
Malaysia 1.4 1.3
Other countries 3.8 4.3
TOTAL 45.9 52

Density of biodiesel: 0.88 kg/l; 1 kg biodiesel corresponds to 1.14 l

Density of hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO): 0.78 kg/l

EU

Biodiesel

In the EU, about 19 million tons of vegetable oils are produced annually, mainly rapeseed (50 percent), sunflower (18 percent) and soybean (15 percent) (BLE 2021 - linked report in German). Production of biodiesel and hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) amounts to approximately 15 million tons annually, with a significant portion of the raw materials being imported. The following amounts are used annually:

  • 7 million tons of rapeseed oil (38 percent)
  • 5 million tons of palm oil (30 percent)
  • 9 million tons of soybean oil (6 percent) 
  • 5 million tons of sunflower oil (3 percent)
  • 3 million tons of used cooking oils (15 percent)
  • 6 million tons of animal fats (4 percent)

(UFOP 2022, page 30).

Ethanol

According to the European Commission, about 8 percent (20 million tons) of the grain produced goes into the production of ethanol. (UFOP 2022, page 25).

Germany

According to the German Environment Ministry, about 4 percent of total energy consumption in road transport this year will come from biofuels derived from food and feed crops. This amount of energy is equivalent to about 9.8 million tons of feedstocks such as wheat, rapeseed, corn and soybeans, according to the Ministry. In addition, 91 percent of the raw materials used are imported from abroad. The German government is therefore working to limit the production of biofuels. Coordination is already underway between the various ministries of economics, agriculture, environment and development.

USA

In the United States, nearly 100 million tons of corn – over one-third of the crop – is used to produce about 56 billion liters (15 billion gallons) of ethanol annually (USDA 2022, Tab. 5, Tab. 16). 40 percent of soybean oil produced goes into the production of biodiesel (USDA 2022, Tab. 6).

Brazil

In Brazil, 39 percent of the vegetable oil harvest goes into biodiesel production and 54 percent of the sugarcane was processed into 32 billion liters of ethanol (UFOP 2022, page 25).

Indonesia

In Indonesia, 25 percent of the palm oil harvest goes into the production of biodiesel. The blending ratio is 30 percent.

Letter

To: the governments of the United States, the European Union and its member states, Brazil, Indonesia, China, Canada, Malaysia and Argentina

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We call on you to end the legally mandated blending of biofuels produced from vegetable oils, grains and sugar crops with diesel and gasoline immediately.

The United Nations has warned of a dramatic shortage of staple foods such as grain and cooking oils, further sharp rises in prices, and even famine and violent uprisings.

Using food crops as fuel for motor vehicles is irresponsible under these circumstances. No one must be denied the right to food and food sovereignty.

Biofuels are neither environmentally sound nor climate-neutral. The cultivation of raw materials consumes enormous amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and water and takes up huge areas of land. The resulting vast industrial monocultures are a major factor in the extinction crisis. In the tropics, the cultivation of oil palms, soybean and sugar cane for biofuel is driving rainforest destruction.

Yours faithfully,

Footnotes

UN's warningsUnited Nations; Security Council (May 19, 2022): Lack of Grain Exports Driving Global Hunger to Famine Levels, as War in Ukraine Continues, Speakers Warn Security Council: https://www.un.org/press/en/2022/sc14894.doc.htm

and 

United Nations; Secretary-General (May 18, 2022). If We Don’t Feed People, We Feed Conflict, Secretary-General tells Global Food Security Call to Action Ministerial Event, Warning Mass Hunger Looms: https://www.un.org/press/en/2022/sgsm21285.doc.htm


one-tenth of the global grain harvest and one-third of sugar crops to produce ethanol

Union zur Förderung von Oel- und Proteinpflanzen e. V. (2022). REPORT ON GLOBAL MARKET SUPPLY 2020/2021. pages 25 - 27: https://www.ufop.de/files/7216/1649/5848/UFOP_SupplyReport_2020-2021__120321.pdf
Around 168 million tons of grain (mainly corn) were used to produce ethanol in 2021, while 46 million tons of vegetable oils - mainly palm (39%), soybean (25%) and rapeseed oil (14%) were used for biodiesel.

This petition is also available in the following languages:

51,188 supporters

Help us reach 100,000:

Recent activity

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Stay in the loop on rainforest conservation issues with our free newsletter!