Biofuels produced from biomass could provide up to 27% of global transport fuels by 2050, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA)."
The report, Biofuels for Transport, indicates that sustainable biofuel consumption – using only biofuels that bring life cycle environmental benefits without compromising food security – could increase from 55 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) now to 750 Mtoe in 2050.
The switch to biofuels would, by 2050, provide one fifth of emission reductions in the transport sector – equivalent to 2.1 gigatonnes of CO2.
“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,” says Bo Diczfalusy, director of sustainable energy policy and technology at IEA.
The emissions reductions rely on minimising fossil fuel use during the production of biofuels – from cultivation to transport and conversion, as well as avoiding direct or indirect land-use change, such as cutting down forests to make way for feedstock production.
The IEA report says that conventional biofuels, mainly produced from starch, sugar and oilseed crops, will have to improve their performance on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Over the next decade, the IEA says that ‘advanced’ technologies based on lignocellulosic biomass such as wood and straw will have to be deployed commercially to produce the lion’s share of biofuel. But the investment in such technologies could top $13 trillion.
“Further support for advanced biofuel research, development and demonstration is still needed to improve conversion efficiencies and reduce costs,” says Diczfalusy. “Investments in commercial-scale production units will be a key to enable advanced biofuels to reach full market maturity.”
The report also stresses that governments should have mandatory sustainability standards for biofuels, as the UK has attempted to do, and ensure that they are aligned internationally to avoid acting as trade barriers.
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But increases in biofuel use have led to record food prices and accelerated deforestation.