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Wed 15 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Feedstock awareness

Real biofuel progress means ensuring your supply chain is sound.

As Petrochemicals Middle East went to press, news broke that a local firm will take a majority stake in a venture to build the UAE's first plant to produce biodiesel from inedible oils.

The development and enhancement of green technology in the region is to be congratulated. When it is done responsibly.

As the profile and consumption of biofuels has risen across the globe, consumers have begun to do their research, and many don't like what they've found out. Problems with biofuels don't stem from the emissions end of the cycle, but much earlier in the supply chain.

Diesel fuel is synthesised from oily plants like rapeseed, palm and soya. The ecological benefits vary widely, depending on which crop is used and how they are produced.

Harvesting large volumes of oil seed plants has lead to direct competition for agricultural land and water with local communities across the tropical world. In some cases, its production is already a major contributor to deforestation.

Though it does not manufacture first generation biofuels (those which are derived from crops), Shell has become its largest distributor. The company has had the foresight to recognise that real concerns exist over workers' rights and conditions at sugar and palm oil plantations, as well as the ecological impact, and has developed a strict policy of inspecting its supply chain from plantation to delivery.

Companies in the Middle East may well harness this technology and become significant buyers of inedible oils. As long as this development is matched with an awareness of its implications, and local firms work to improve the sustainability of production, this will deserve praise.

All players in the biofuels business should collaborate to build industry-wide sustainability standards for its production, and Middle Eastern firms should help lead this march from the front.

Daniel Canty is the editor of Oil & Gas Middle East.

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