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Palm Oil

While palm seed oil is a promising biofuel, production costs are high.

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Palm trees are good for more than tropical scenery and coconuts. Their fruit's high-carbon shells can be turned into water purification filters, the leaves and woody parts of the trees have been used for structure and shelter for millennia, and the seeds' oil is now under consideration as a potentially mass-marketable biofuel.

But palm oil is possibly the most apparent example of a major problem standing in the way of widespread biofuel production. The space, energy and financial resources needed to produce the raw stock far outweigh the benefits of the end result.

Palm oil is a major crop in Southeast Asia. As demand increases for palm oil to produce biodiesel, plantations in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia are clearing vast swaths of rainforest to make room for more oil-producing palms. And the trucks, ships and production facilities used to move palm oil from these countries to the car- and truck-heavy West add to the fuel burned -- and emissions produced -- to bring this green fuel to market. Palm oil is not the only biofuel facing this dilemma, but its popularity and low cost mean it's encountered the problem on a wider, and more public, scale than many of the edible fuels that follow [source: Rosenthal].

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