Report: Biofuels, bioproducts required to meet GHG goals

By Erin Voegele | December 10, 2018

A report released by the Biofuture Platform on Dec. 10 states that the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals cannot be met without greater use of biofuels and bioproducts. The report also describes several barriers impeding future progress in the sector.

The 126-page report, titled “Creating the Biofuture: A Report on the State of the Low Carbon Bioeconomy,” shows how different nations that face different circumstances are dealing with the emerging advanced bioeconomy. It also assesses what could be down to help scale-up a sustainable low-carbon bioeconomy.

The report focuses on two specific bioeconomy sectors—biofuels used in transportation and non-energetic bioproducts that can be used to replace a range of fossil-based products routinely used across all economic sectors.

Regarding the U.S., the report finds that although the country is the most prominent producer and consumer of biofuels in the world, 80.1 percent of total primary energy consumption came from fossil fuels as of 2016.

In 2016, the report shows the U.S. produced 55.74 billion liters (14.72 billion gallons) of ethanol and consumed 54.51 billion liters of ethanol. The U.S. also produced 8.31 billion liters of biodiesel that year, with consumption reaching 7.8 billion liters. In total, the report shows the U.S. produced 64 billion liter of biofuels in 2016, and consumed 62.3 liters. Overall, biofuels accounted for 5.13 percent of total transportation fuel.

The report lists energy security, the establishment of a domestic bio-industry and job creation as main drivers for biofuel development in the U.S. However, a lack of financial resources, competition with fossil fuels, and regulation and policies are considered to be the main challenges for the U.S. biofuels sector.

The report also briefly addresses the advanced biofuels industry in the U.S. It lists 12 advanced biofuel facilities as being located in the U.S., the largest number of any region other than the European Union. About half the projects focused on cellulosic ethanol, with the remainder focused on the production of HVO, jet fuel, biocrude and renewable diesel.

According to the report, the key drivers for bioproducts development in the U.S. are the association with biofuels to make business more profitable, the development of new markets and a new biobased industry, the improvement of the trade balance by reducing chemical imports, and the creation of jobs. Alternatively, the lack of financial resources, fossil fuel competition, and regulations/polices are considered the greatest challenges for bioproduct production.

Globally, the report indicates that 130 billion liters of biofuels were produced in 2016, primarily first-generation ethanol and biodiesel. According to the report, global biofuel output must reach more than 200 billion liters per year by 2025 and more than 1.1 trillion liters annually by 2050 to be in line with long-term climate change mitigation scenarios developed by the International Energy Agency and the International Renewable Energy Agency. The report stresses that the production of second- and third-generation biofuels must grow dramatically if Biofuture Platform targets are to be met.

On a global scale, the report identifies four key barriers to the further development of the biofuels and bioproducts sector. First, the authors point to high levels of perceived risk as affecting the availability of financial resources for commercial-scale production, which is holding back necessary research, development and deployment. Second, the report cites a lack of competitiveness for biofuels and other bioproducts relative to fossil fuel-based alternatives in many markets. Third, the report states unfavorable policy framework do not effectively coordinate the competing needs of the agricultural economy and food system, a secure and clean energy supply, and protection of the natural environment. Finally, the report cites insufficient, unreliable or expensive supplies of sustainably sourced feedstocks as a problem impacting the sector.

“Modern bioenergy is the overlooked giant of the renewable energy field,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. “Its share in the world’s total renewables consumption is about 50 percent today—as much as hydro, wind, solar and all other renewables combined. We expect modern bioenergy will continue to lead the field, and has huge prospects for further growth. But smart policies and rigorous sustainability regulations will be essential to meet its full potential.”

The Creating the Biofuture report was commissioned by the Biofuture Platform—a government-led, multi-stakeholder initiative created to support the development of the sustainable, low carbon bioeconomy. It is based on insights and data from 19 countries and the European Commission, collaborating as members of the Biofuture Platform coalition and the Mission Innovation Sustainable Biofuel Innovation Challenge multilateral initiative.

A full copy of the report can be downloaded from the Biofuture Platform website.