More Palm Oil Questions: Finnair Halts Biofuel Introduction, As Malaysia's Forests Fall For Farming


photo: Henry Hagnäs/Creative Commons

Two on palm oil, from Finland and Malaysia: State-owned airline Finnair has announced that it will not begin using aviation biofuel on some of its routes this year as previously planned. Part of the reason is the environmental impact of palm oil-based aviation fuel. The announcement comes on the same day that a new assessment of the damage caused by palm oil plantation expansion in Malaysia paints a grim future for tropical peat forests. Malaysia's Peat Forests May Be Gone By Decade's End
The new analysis, conducted by Wetlands International and Sarvision, shows that between 2005-2010 alone 10% of all of the Malaysia state of Sarawak's forests, and one-third of peat forest have been cleared. Two-thirds of this deforestation can be linked to expansion of palm oil plantations.

Currently Malaysia is responsible for 45% of the world's palm oil production, second only to Indonesia. At the current rate of expansion by the end of the decade peat forests may be eliminated in Sarawak.

Besides the loss a habitat for countless species, some endangered and iconic such as the orangutan and others not endangered but nevertheless intrinsically important, conversion of peat forest to plantation agriculture results in huge releases of carbon stored in the soil and in the above ground vegetation.

Wetlands International explains:

Malaysia used to have about 2.5 million ha of peatland forests. Conversion and drainage of these natural carbon stores causes a rapid decomposition and subsidence of the organic soil leading to huge carbon dioxide emissions, lasting for decades. Very cautious and conservative estimates put greenhouse gas emissions from palm oil plantations on peat at 40 tonnes of CO2 per hectare per year. Using this very conservative estimation, the 510,000 ha of peatlands in Malaysia drained for palm oil production thus cause the release of some 20 million tonnes/CO2 annually. However, twice this amount is more likely.

Read more: New figures: palm oil destroys Malaysia's peatswamp forests faster than ever
Economic & Sustainability Issues Change Finnair Biofuel Plans
Back to the Finnair decision: Finnair had planned to begin using kerosene produced by Neste Oil from palm oil in 2011. The environmental director of Finnair explained the decision to not using the aviation biofuel:

The price of the fuel and its sustainability measured against all criteria is not at the level that we would have gone into it at this point. There are various research projects in progress, and it is in our interest to use a fuel produced from local raw materials. An ideal situation would be for us to get biological kerosene produced from local raw materials, because there is no sense in hauling raw materials from the other side of the world. We would have wanted to start commercial flights with biofuel now, but products that are currently available have not met our sustainability criteria. (Helsingin Sanomat)

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More on Aviation Biofuels:
World's First Flight Powered by 100% Algae Biofuels Completed
So How Much Agricultural Land Will We Need To Keep Global Aviation Aloft With Biofuels?
Confirmed: Biofuels Better Than Fossil Fuels in Jet Engines - Scaling Them Up is the Major Problem
More on Palm Oil:
Netherlands Will Only Use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil by 2015 - First National-Level Commitment
Palm Oil Plantations on Peat Soil No Longer Qualify for Clean Development Mechanism Carbon Credits
Orwellian Alan Oxley's Pro-Palm Oil Claims Mislead the Public: Top Indonesia Climate Official

Tags: Airlines | Carbon Emissions | Finland | Malaysia | Renewable Energy