Does Ninja Movers Use Biofuels?

Like many companies in the Bay Area, and many companies throughout the world, Ninja Movers is concerned about the environment and it shows in many of our policies and procedures. We recycle. We use renewable and often reusable materials. We don’t leave our trucks running (a common practice), even on short stops. However, there is one action that we have chosen not to take and that is to convert our trucks to biodiesel.

The decision takes many of our customers by surprise. Biofuels are being sold as a greener alternative to fossil fuel and while no one is arguing that fossil fuel is anything but horrible for the environment, the fact is that biofuels are not the answer.

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the claims made by advocates of biofuels. The first is that saves on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over fossil fuel. While it is true that biofuels have zero emissions while burned, the production of biodiesel can be especially dirty and if you take deforestation into account, the net impact to the environment is very high.

“Every ton of palm oil produced results in 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions—10 times more than petroleum.[1] Tropical forests cleared for sugar cane ethanol emit 50 percent more greenhouse gasses than the production and use of the same amount of gasoline[2]Commenting on the global carbon balance, Doug Parr, chief UK scientist at Greenpeace states flatly, “If even five percent of biofuels are sourced from wiping out existing ancient forests, you’ve lost all your carbon gain.”

There are other environmental problems as well. Industrial agro-fuels require large applications of petroleum-based fertilizers, whose global use—now at 45 million tons/year—has more than doubled the biologically available nitrogen in the world, contributing heavily to the emission of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than CO². In the tropics—where most of the world’s agro-fuels will soon be grown—chemical fertilizer has 10-100 times the impact on global warming compared to temperate soil applications.[3] To produce a liter of ethanol takes three to five liters of irrigation water and produces up to 13 liters of waste water. It takes the energy equivalent of 113 liters of natural gas to treat this waste, increasing the likelihood that it will simply be released into the environment to pollute streams, rivers and groundwater[4] Intensive cultivation of fuel crops also leads to high rates of erosion, particularly in soy production—from 6.5 tons/hectare in the U.S. to up to 12 tons/hectare in Brazil and Argentina.”

Source: Centre for Research on Globalization

Even more significantly, biofuels are a major cause of hunger across the world. In the U.S., farmers who might otherwise grow strawberries and lettuce are growing corn or soybeans for biofuels. Throughout the world, it’s even worse. In countries where food is already scarce, crops grown for biofuels are competing for space with food crops and the biofuel crops are often winning – driving up the costs of food for people who are already paying between 50%-80% of their income on food. As food becomes more expensive, food aid decreases since countries budget aid based on monetary amounts rather than on number of people fed. The Centre for Research on Globalization estimates that by 2025, 1.2 billion people could be chronically hungry.

Many biofuel advocates are trumpeting the use of waste vegetable oil from fast food restaurants. On a very small basis, that’s a great solution, but it simply wouldn’t work on a large basis. In the U.S., we produce only about 300 million gallons of waste oil annually. We use about 220 billion gallons of gasoline for transportation every year. To put that in perspective, if we were to use every gallon of waste oil for transportation, we’d be able to fuel only about one of every 733 vehicles.

Ninja Movers is always on the lookout for the next great truly sustainable way to fuel our trucks. Maybe we’ll be the first moving company with solar panels or even tiny windmills on the top of our vehicles. In all seriousness, we are hoping for one Bay Area company to come to the rescue. A South San Francisco company called Solazyme is making advances in using algae as the next big boon in sustainable fuel production. But for now, we’re working on decreasing our carbon footprint in other places while we work toward solving hunger in our own area (more on that later).