IEA says global biofuel capacity must double by 2020

By Erin Voegele | April 19, 2013

The International Energy Agency has made its annual report to the Clean Energy Ministerial, reporting that renewable technologies are one of the few bright spots in an otherwise bleak assessment of global progress towards low-carbon energy. The CEM brings together representatives of countries responsible for approximately 80 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

“The drive to clean up the world’s energy system has stalled,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven told the CEM. “Despite much talk by world leaders, and despite a boom in renewable energy over the last decade, the average unit of energy produced today is basically as dirty as it was 20 years ago.”

One section of the annual report focuses specifically on biofuels. According to the IEA, growth in biofuels production stalled in 2012 due to high feedstock prices. According to the document, biofuel capacity must more than double by 2020 to meet the 2 degree Celsius scenario (2DC) targets. The 2DS describes an energy system consistent with an emissions trajectory that research indicates would give an 80 percent chase of limiting average global temperature increases by 2 degrees Celsius. It targets cutting energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by more than half in 2050, compared to 2009 levels.

The IEA specifies that reaching 2DS targets will require dedicated policy support for advanced biofuels and additional government funding for research and production. The report also notes that advanced biofuel capacity has, to date, increased by about 33 percent from 2011 levels.

According to the report, global biofuel production remained static from 2011 to 2012, with approximately 110 billion liters (29.6 billion gallons). While U.S. ethanol output declined in 2012 due to drought conditions, biodiesel production grew by approximately 7 percent.

Regarding advanced biofuels, the report said global capacity reached 4.5 billion liters in 2012, up approximately 33 percent from 2011 capacity.

New investment in the biofuel sector decreased by 50 percent globally from 2011 to 2012. The  IEA attributes the drop to overcapacity in some markets, the review of biofuel support policies in some regions and higher feedstock prices.

The report specifies that under the 2DS, a portfolio of low-carbon alternative fuels are used to meet more than 6 percent of global transportation fuel demand by 2020. Almost 80 percent of that demand is met by 240 billion liters of biofuel. While world biofuel production has increased by 700 percent since 2000, the IEA said it still only meets 2.3 percent of liquid fuel demand. To meet the 2DS goals, the IEA said production must more than double by 2020. In addition, the development of advanced biofuel production capacity must be accelerated.