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CIFOR Study on Oil Palm Plantations Identifies Research Needs on Biofuels and Carbon Impacts

June 2009: The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), a research center of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), has published a study on the impacts and research needs with regard to oil palm plantations, covering, among other issues, the impacts of increased cultivation for biofuel production.

The study titled “The Impacts and Opportunities of Oil Palm in Southeast Asia: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know?” examines the current state of knowledge and research needs with respect to global trends in oil palm production and their impact on the environment and livelihoods, including impacts on deforestation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. With regard to biofuel production, the study concludes: the current expansion of palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia is driven primarily by increased demand for food oil and to a lesser extent by demand for biofuels; and the short-term costs of palm oil as carbon saving fuel greatly outweigh the benefits. The study further notes that, while the energy yield of oil palm diesel exceeds the fossil energy input needed for production, the carbon emission costs of clearing forests may take 80-90 years of biofuel production to be offset.

The study identifies numerous research needs in the area of oil palm plantation for biofuel production, including: full lifecycle analysis; analysis of new policy mechanisms and their impacts; scenarios for different levels of biofuel demand, production efficiency and processing technologies; and impacts on food security. Regarding palm oil plantation and GHG emissions, the study identifies the following research needs: guidelines for a carbon neutral palm oil industry; emission levels of other GHGs; carbon implications of clearing different types of vegetation; and emission accounting methods. [The Study]