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Global Futures Report 2013 - Biofuels

60 RENEWABLES GLOBAL FUTURES REPORT 06 EVOLUTION OF TECHNOLOGIES, COSTS, AND GLOBAL Market Growth Great Debate 12 | How Sustainable Can Biofuels Become in the Long Term? The sustainability of biofuels has attracted increased attention over the past several years. In Europe, a 2009 EU directive for renew- able energy targets a 10% share of transport energy from biofuels and electricity by 2020. The directive requires that biofuels must generate minimum levels of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, compared with fossil fuels, if biofuels are to count toward meet- ing the target. Similar requirements exist for the U.S. Renewable Fuel Standard and California’s state standard. Brazil also adopted new sustainability policies for sugarcane ethanol in 2009. These types of policies notwithstanding, several experts were concerned about sustainability issues with current-generation bio- fuels. They noted issues like land use, deforestation, biodiversity, food prices and security, and social issues with local populations. And some believed that only advanced biofuels, particularly from agricultural wastes and from crops on marginal lands like switch grass, would ensure future sustainability. One developing country expert said: “I am afraid the world is placing excessive emphasis on biofuels. This would mean diversion of land in developing and poor countries from food crops to fuel crops—a strategy that may not be acceptable to all countries.” The IEA (2011) “Technology Roadmap” for biofuels says that high shares of biofuels in the long term pose “a considerable challenge given competition for land and feedstocks from rapidly growing demand for food and fiber, and for … biomass for generating heat and power.” But the roadmap concludes that ultimately it should be possible, from residues and waste, along with sustainably grown energy crops. (For more discussion, see REN21 Renewables 2010 Global Status Report, Sidebar 7, page 43.) Source: See Endnote 55 for this chapter. Notes and discussion: See Annex 4. Biofuels Several industry experts believed that by 2050, biofuels could provide at least 25–35% of the world’s transport fuels, although other experts questioned high shares based on sustainability and resource constraints. (See “Great Debate 12” on this page.) One expert believed that the share could reach even higher, and become based predominantly on crop wastes, thus negating concerns about land use and sustainability—if vehicles became super-efficient and total transport energy demand is much less. Experts also disagreed about whether biofuels in the long term would remain mostly so-called “first generation,” or whether “advanced” biofuels (i.e., cellulosic-ethanol and bio-synthetic gas) would eventually dominate markets. Many experts foresaw increased research, development and commercialization efforts, but some were uncertain of the ulti- mate results of such efforts.55 Oil companies are relatively optimistic about biofuels, and many are investing or expecting to invest in biofuels research and pro- duction. “Advanced biofuels … will play an increasing role,” said Chevron, which like many oil companies was actively investing in advanced biofuels research. The IEA (WEO, 2012) says: “Advanced biofuels … are assumed to become commercially available (though not yet competitive with conventional fuels) around 2020 in the New Policies Scenario. By 2035, advanced biofuels make up 18% of total biofuel production.” An IEA (2011) "Technology Roadmap" for biofuels envisions demonstrations of commercial-scale produc- tion of cellulosic-ethanol, biomass-to-liquids diesel, hydrotreated vegetable oil, and bio-synthetic gas by 2015. Beyond 2015, the roadmap envisioned innovative "bio-refinery" concepts, and beyond 2020, feasible production of algae-derived biofuels and other novel biofuels routes.56 Cellulosic ethanol plants are still considerably more expensive to build than corn ethanol plants in the United States, by a factor of 2–3 in higher investment costs, said one expert. So costs will have to decline significantly, although cellulosic feedstocks are cheaper, so capital investment costs give only part of the picture. Experts pointed to continuing incremental improvements in costs through a variety of possible processes, including hybrid processes combining biochemical and thermo-chemical conversion.57 Fundamentally, there remains a wide variety of expert opinion: some believe commercialization is close at hand, while others believe commercialization may never occur. Factors include developing cheaper enzymes, feedstock prices, technological learning, and sus- tainability issues. The IEA WEO (2012) “Current Policies” scenario projects that advanced biofuels, like biomass-to-liquid biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol, will become commercial by 2025, while the "450" scenario projects this happening much sooner, by 2015.58 There are a variety of advanced biofuels technologies in research stages that may one day achieve commercial viability. Experts pointed to several possibilities, including biomass-gasification-to- liquid conversion pathways, sugar-to-biodiesel conversion using yeast fermentation, bacteria for producing biodiesel from cellulosic materials, and algae as a potential biofuel feedstock.59

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