This issue goes to print as one of the western world’s most publicized “independence day” celebrations takes place – the fourth of July in the United States. Meanwhile, other countries are still entrenched in military combat defending their recently gained independence from imperialistic overlords that seek to turn the political clock and East-West demarcation lines back thirty or so years.
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In other words, a good day as any to ponder on what independence means.
It is usually defined as the state of being free of the control, influence, support, aid, or the like of some other person, entity, or country. Yet paradoxically, it would seem that our personal and collective independence requires varying degrees of dependency, much of which could be replaced with increased self-sufficiency.
The current geopolitical situation with the invasion of Ukraine by Russia highlights this dependency in no uncertain terms.
While Europe has to contend with escalating energy costs, increased consumer prices, and rising inflation, other countries find themselves in a far more perilous situation with food shortages on account of some 22 million tonnes of grain and oilseeds destined for export from Ukraine being “held hostage” by the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports.
While UN and other negotiations to open transport corridors are ongoing, a global man-made food crisis that strikes the world’s most vulnerable is already taking a toll.
In Europe, some environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) have been very quick to point a finger at the biofuels sector, in particular, crop- and feed-based biofuels accusing them yet again of being worse for the climate, worse for biodiversity, and contributing to higher food prices. Despite the 7 percent cap, sustainability criteria, and greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction.
According to the European Environmental Agency (EEA), the GHG emissions reduction of biofuels consumed in Europe already significantly exceeds the minimum 50 percent savings threshold compared to fossil fuels.
Lowering or removing the contribution of crop-based biofuels to the RED III transport targets, as ENGOs are calling for, would have negative consequences all around – increased consumption and dependency on fossil fuel imports, higher and more volatile energy prices, and increased GHG emissions.
Furthermore, as highlighted by ag-industry trade bodies such as FEDIOL which represents the European oilseeds industry, maintaining crop- and feed-based biofuel production allows for “available feedstocks to be immediately redirected to food production in times of food crises as has been done by the industry in response to the market situation due to the war in Ukraine.”
Without or with fewer crop-based biofuels, there would be lower demand for crop production and thus reduced availability of commodities to mitigate food crises. Furthermore, just like their North American counterparts, European ethanol, and biodiesel producers by default contribute to food security by leading to greater availability of EU-produced protein-rich animal feeds, and valuable co-products, such as lecithin, corn oil, and glycerine, that offset the need to import such commodities.
Increased self-sufficiency is also at the core of the circular (bio)economy. Increasing the reuse, and recycling of materials originally imported lessens the need to import virgin materials or feedstock.
Take plastics, for example, an indispensable material used in innumerable modern-day products and packaging applications. Recycling has remained a challenge compounded by the inexpensive production of new virgin material from fossil sources.
With the combination of increased recycling rate demands, ban on landfilling, carbon pricing on fossil-derived energy recovery, high crude oil prices, consumer pressure, and emerging chemical- and other recycling technologies, change is in the air as a whirlwind visit to IFAT found. Proper treatment of sewage sludge and phosphorous recovery is another pressing area in that sludge2energy offers a compelling solution.