$11+ trillion in biofuels production by 2050: International Energy Agency

April 21, 2011 |

Biofuels Technology Roadmap released; 3 billion tonnes of biomass needed per year; 27% market share in fuel transport by 2050

In Washington, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that it expects biofuels to generate $11-$13 trillion in production between 2010 and 2050, and the global share of biofuel in total transport fuel to grow from 2% today to 27% in 2050.

Launching its 2050 Technology Roadmap in Biofuels for Transport at the Advanced Biofuels Leadership Conference,  the IEA Director of Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology  Bo Diczfalusy, said that “This [production cost] figure may seem large, but in fact even in the worst case biofuels would only increase the total costs of transport fuels by around 1% over the next 40 years, and could in fact lead to cost reductions over the same period.”

“Further support for advanced biofuel research, development and demonstration is still needed,” Diczfaluzy said, “to improve conversion efficiencies and reduce costs. In addition, investments in commercial-scale production units will be a key to enable advanced biofuels to reach full market maturity.”

Around 3 billion tonnes of biomass per year will be needed in 2050 to produce the amount of biofuels envisioned in the IEA roadmap. The report assesses that 1 billion tonnes of biomass residues and wastes would be needed, and this would need to be supplemented by production from around 100 million hectares of land – around 2% of total agricultural land. This would be a three-fold increase compared with today, but the yield of biofuels could increase by a factor of 10 through the use of wastes and residues and through the use of more productive crops and processes.

“Government action is needed to provide a stable, long-term policy framework for biofuels that allows for sustained investments in biofuel expansion,” said Diczfalusy. “Specific support measures that address the high investment risk currently associated with pre-commercial advanced biofuel technologies will be vital to trigger industry investments in first commercial plants.”

Sustainability is key

“With world population growing by more than 30% to 9 billion people in 2050, and food demand increasing approximately 70% according to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, competition of biofuel production for land with food, fodder, as well as fiber production needs to be carefully addressed to avoid negative impacts from biofuel expansion on food security,” Diczfalusy said.

The report says the use of residues and high-yielding energy crops as feedstocks, and the efficient use of biomass, for instance through integrating biofuel and bio-material production (so-called biorefineries), will be vital to reduce land competition. In addition, sustainability certification of biofuels, following internationally agreed sustainability criteria, will be an important step towards ensuring that biofuel production and use have a positive environmental, social and economic impact.

The report stresses that governments should adopt mandatory sustainability standards for biofuels, and ensure they are internationally aligned, to avoid acting as barriers to trade. Since many points of criticism on biofuels’ sustainability are in fact issues concerning the whole agricultural sector, the report concludes that biofuel policies should be aligned with those in agriculture, forestry and rural development. An overall sustainable land-use management strategy for all agricultural and forestry land will be the only way to avoid land-use changes with negative impacts on the environment and CO2 emissions, and to support the wide range of demands in different sectors.

International collaboration is vital

The report stresses that reducing tariffs and other trade barriers will be important to expanding the trade in biomass and biofuels to reach the levels necessary to meet emerging demand in different regions of the world. International co-operation will also be needed to further develop analyses of sustainable land and biomass potentials, and obtain detailed regional data on suitable feedstocks for biofuel production.

To ensure developing countries can successfully adopt sustainable biofuel production, international collaboration on capacity building and technology transfer will be necessary, the report stresses. Developing countries interested in introducing biofuels can profit from the experience of other regions, including lessons learned and best practices for biofuel production, as well as the government policies that can help ensure that required investments are beneficial for local economies.

“While vehicle efficiency will be the most important and most cost-efficient way to reduce transport-emissions, biofuels will still be needed to provide low-carbon fuel alternatives for planes, marine vessels and other heavy transport modes, and will eventually provide one fifth (2.1 gigatonnes of CO2) of emission reductions in the transport sector,” Bo Diczfalusy, the IEA’s Director of Sustainable Energy Policy and Technology, said at the launch of the report today in Washington.

The IEA prepared the Technology Roadmap Biofuels for Transport in consultation with representatives of government, industry, academia and non-governmental organizations. The roadmap provides an overview of the current status of different conventional and advanced biofuel technologies and the latest research on sustainability issues related to biofuel production. It also charts a course for expanding the production and use of biofuels to 2050, in a sustainable way.

Free download of the IEA Roadmap

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