Global Impact

International agencies confirm biofuels’ vital role
By Kris Bevill | June 13, 2011

The International Energy Agency released a long-term roadmap for biofuels that illustrates the important role biofuels will continue to play in the global market, saying they have the potential to make up 27 percent of global transport fuels by 2050.

Sustainability is a major focus of the IEA’s biofuels report, which states that there are three pillars of sustainability that must be considered—environment, economic and social—and  current trends of energy supply and use are unsustainable in all three. The IEA says biofuels, if developed and expanded thoughtfully, can contribute to a sustainable energy future. “Through careful management and appropriate project choice and design, negative impacts can be minimized or avoided, and biofuel projects can, in fact, have positive impacts,” the agency reports. Authors of the report warn that conventional biofuels producers must make improvements to their conversion technologies to improve overall sustainability. They also recommend policymakers phase out fossil fuel subsidies and implement greenhouse gas (GHG) emission pricing mechanisms to encourage the deployment of lower carbon technologies. Continued federal financial support is also recommended to aid commercialization of advanced biofuels. “Mandates alone are not enough to promote the deployment of those technologies that perform best in terms of land use, energy efficiency, GHG reductions and social and economic impacts,” the authors say.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also address the sustainability of biofuels, specifically second-generation biofuels, in a comprehensive special report for governments and policymakers. In its report, IPCC researchers also state the need for supportive policy measures in order to continue to increase renewables’ share of the energy markets. They, too, say policies to monetize GHG emissions will be vital.

“This report shows that it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” says Ramon Pichs, co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group III, the group which authored the report and is responsible for assessing all areas of climate change mitigation for the IPCC.

The report notes that policies must be created to match the particular factors of the technology in question and be flexible to keep pace with the evolving industries. Factors to consider include the level of technological maturity, affordable capital, ease of integration into the existing system and the local and national renewable energy resource base. “Policy frameworks that are transparent and sustained can reduce investment risks and facilitate deployment of renewable energy and the evolution of low-cost applications,” the authors say. —Kris Bevill