If there’s one urgent measure the legislators need to address soon (besides the long-delayed budget which the House took all of four months to produce and now wants to toss to the Senate in the, to borrow basketball lingo, “the last three minutes”), it’s this one. Widespread use of biofuels in the Philippine context would mean converting coconut oil into biodiesel and sugar or corn into ethanol, a move that could reduce poverty in the countryside. Corn and coconuts are among the major crops tilled by poor farmers.
But the greater relevance of the bill is our own modest contribution to the global efforts to address climate change. The stakes here are no less than the survival of this planet, its flora and fauna, and most of all, the fate of the human race. It is no idle advocacy of some rich, western-trained kid, as what some right-wing champions of unbridled oil exploration have for years painted those Greenpeace activists. This is a direction not to be taken because it’s a fad; it simply is the only way to go, and the sooner we realize it and do something decisive about it, the better our chances of averting a very real risk.
The April 3 issue of TIME Magazine highlights this point. The bad news, it reports, is that “climate disruptions are feeding off one another in accelerating spirals of destruction.” The signs are getting clearer: the melting of the polar ice caps that leads to the rising waters and floods in low-lying areas, more lands devastated by drought in some parts of the world, and the greater threat of diseases that could affect millions. And recently, the impact of global warming are manifested in such violent disasters such as the Category 5 Cyclone Larry (with 290 km an hour wind burst) that devastated some parts of northeastern
According to the Ethanol Alliance, an organization composed of Sugar Regulatory Administration, the Center for Alcohol Research and Development, Sugar Master Plan Foundation, Petron, and the Philippine Sugar Millers Association and which is pushing for a national ethanol program, biofuels are important for these reasons: they are simple to use, biodegradable, nontoxic, essentially free of sulfur and aromatics, and don’t contribute to global warming. They can be used in compression- and spark ignition engines without any major modifications.
What is exciting about biofuels is that, because of rising prices of fossil fuels, they have become an economically viable business worldwide. On the supply side,
In biodiesel, Chemrez, Inc., a Filipino company, is already exporting biodiesel to
And on the demand side, the markets for biofuels are unlimited both in the domestic and the global markets. In fact, most countries in the world today from Asia to the US and Europe have their own program to shift or partially replace fossil fuels with biofuels to reduce import bills, meet their greenhouse gas-emission-reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol, improve people’s health, and promote a cleaner environment. If the country could produce enough volume to meet local and global needs, biofuels might yet be the silver bullet that could reduce poverty in the countryside.
In fairness, government, especially the Department of Energy is really working hard on the issue, together with the private sector. At DOE’s recommendations, for instance, the government has already reduced tariffs for environmentally friendly car parts, apparently to encourage the production of vehicles with hybrid, flex-fuel, or natural gas fed engines. Early this year, Shell has issued a statement that it will soon start blending its gasoline with ethanol while Flying V has actually started selling pre-blended biodiesel at its fuel stations.
What is only lacking now therefore is the passage the proposed biofuels bill that will provide the framework for implementation of a comprehensive biodiesels program nationwide. The proposed bill also contains provision mandating all the oil companies to sell preblended biodiesel and ethanol. Right now, biodiesel are being sold as an additive or fuel enhancer in separate bottles making it relatively expensive. Once, the oil companies start preblending, the cost of biodiesel will significantly go down as producers of coconut methyl esther will be selling said intermediate input in bulk. Preblending therefore will be the fastest way to ensure wider use from consumers, thus ensuring the viability of the biofuels industry.