Britain is banning new petrol and diesel cars from 2040. Does that mean the end of bio-fuels?

No more. Image: Getty.

One question that arises from the announcement by the UK government that new diesel and petrol cars will be banned by 2040 is what it means for biofuels. If cars running on fossil fuels will be substituted by electric cars, it could imply that all liquid transport fuels will be eliminated.

Around 5 per cent of the volume of the average British tank of petrol or diesel comes from biofuels at present. It is produced from various sources, including corn, wheat, sugar beet and waste ranging from rotten vegetables to used cooking oil.

 

Biofuels in the UK by feedstock type. Image: RAENG report.

The large-scale use of biofuels dates back to the 1970s, when they were first introduced in Brazil through government incentives to build vehicles that could run on 100 per cent ethanol produced mainly from sugar cane. Brazil remains a leader in biofuels, despite ups and downs over the years. More than a quarter of petrol content must comprise ethanol – and most vehicles can run 100 per cent ethanol if they choose to.

Elsewhere biofuels have enjoyed varying fortunes. They became a popular possible alternative in the 1990s as a consequence of the rise in the oil price. More recently, more than 60 countries across the world require some blend of biofuels at the fuel pumps as part of their commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and have also launched biofuel production programmes.

Yet progress has become very slow in many countries. Among the reasons are the period of low oil prices and the fact that it uses much more farmland to increase biofuel proportions in fuel tanks.


Biofuels RIP?

So will anyone bother to keep striving towards sustainable liquid fuels now that the end of petrol/diesel vehicles appears in sight? The answer has to be yes, for a couple of important reasons.

The first is hybrid vehicles, which have been far more successful than purely electric ones to date. These engines that run on a combination of liquid fuels and recharged batteries will play a major part in the transition towards complete electrification. If the UK is to move towards a complete ban on fossil fuels in transport, new hybrids are likely to increasingly depend on biofuels.

The second point is that the transport system is about far more than roads. Aviation, shipping and haulage are all significant and they have a much more limited scope for electrification. They will continue to rely heavily on liquid fuels – to which end the US navy recently launched its first biofuel-powered aircraft carrier, for example.

So if we’re still going to need biofuels, how do we make the most of them? I was a member of a working group of the Royal Academy of Engineering that recently produced a report about the sector commissioned by the UK’s departments for transport and energy.

The report, which involved a meta-study of a number of research papers about the sector, said biofuels would undoubtedly play an important role in meeting the UK`s commitments towards climate change. It called for a combination of incentives and careful regulation to avoid risks and unintended consequences, such as crops being diverted from food production.

It proposed incentives to encourage so-called second-generation biofuels – those which predominantly come from waste and have a far better emissions profile than biofuels from dedicated crops such as soya or corn. It proposed to incentivise growing biofuel crops on land that was unsuitable for food production, while generally capping crop-based biofuels to help prevent them from taking up space that could be for food crops. It also proposed that the minimum blend level in the UK be increased from its current 4.75 per cent (more work is required to determine what might be realistic).

If the government approached biofuels in this way, there could be indirect benefits – giving farmers an extra incentive to plant more crops, for example, as well as improving crop yields and making farming processes more efficient. The amount of land dedicated to farming could also rise as a result.

The ConversationMy message is therefore that we will need biofuels for the foreseeable future despite the UK government’s 2040 ban. By prioritising the right kinds of biofuels through subsidies and caps, we can minimise their drawbacks and maximise their advantages over petroleum fuels. The 2040 ban, far from meaning the end of liquid biofuels, should be seen as an important opportunity for the sector.

Raffaella Ocone is chair of chemical engineering at Heriot-Watt University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.