Bioenergy growth must be carefully managed

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Capturing the full potential of biofuels means overcoming environmental and social constraints and removing trade barriers, which are hindering the development of a worldwide market, according to a new report released by the Global Bioenergy Parnership (GBEP).

Potential conflicts between bioenergy production and the protection of the environment, sustainable development, food security of the rural poor and the economic development of countries supplying feedstock should be urgently addressed, according to the report “A Review of the Current State of Bioenergy Development in G8 +5 Countries”, issued on the 13th November at the 20th World Energy Congress (WEC – Rome 2007).

“Developing bioenergy represents the most immediate and available response to at least five key challenges and opportunities: coping with record-high crude-oil prices; the need for oil-importing countries to reduce their dependence on a limited number of exporting nations by diversifying their energy sources and suppliers; the chance for emerging economies in tropical regions to supply the global energy market with competitively priced liquid biofuels; meeting growing energy demand in developing countries, in particular to support development in rural areas; and the commitments taken to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions as part of the battle against climate change,” said Corrado Clini, Chairman of the GBEP and Director General of the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea, at the press conference presenting the report.

“Bioenergy” Clini added, “is already a real alternative to fossil fuels and at the same time, as demonstrated in Brazil, can become the driving force for development in some of the world’s poorest regions.”

Looking ahead

Bioenergy is forecast to satisfy 20 percent of global energy demand by 2030, rising to between 30 and 40 percent by 2060. According to the alternative scenario of the International Energy Agency (IEA), biodiesel and ethanol may make up 7 percent of world demand for liquid fuels in 2030, with consumption rising fourfold to 36 million metric tonnes a year from today’s level of about 8 million tonnes.

“Bio-ethanol derived from maize, for example, has a capacity to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by about 13 percent,” said Clini. “However, this doesn’t appear to be sustainable when you consider the farmland that’s being used for the initial production, the quantity of water consumed, the emissions of nitrates during the treatment and conversion processes as well as the fact that it’s competitive only with crude oil prices above US $80 a barrel. By contrast, bio-ethanol from sugar-cane can cut carbon-dioxide emissions by about 90 percent and is competitive with oil as low as US$30.”

Safeguarding food security

Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General of FAO’s Natural Resources Management and Environment Department, commented: “Bioenergy offers new growth opportunities in many rural areas of developing countries, but it’s important to guarantee the livelihoods and well-being of the most vulnerable. We must ensure that the price of food does not impair the food security of the poor. The Global Bioenergy Partnership, especially in light of the renewed mandate received from the G8 Summit in Germany in June, aims to promote sustainable bioenergy development.”

“Today’s report,” Müller added, “is a survey of the production of energy from biomass in G8 +5 countries, highlighting the advantages and the challenges posed by one of the future’s most promising sources of alternative energy.”

The GBEP report finds that bioenergy is already available, ready to provide immediate solutions and further technological advances in a relatively short time. As regards research and development, so-called second-generation biofuels derived from cellusoic biomass (rice husks, sugar-cane bagasse, agricultural waste and municipal trash) or from micro-algae are likely to start providing large amounts of ethanol and biodiesel in an environmentally friendly way within the next 10 years. “This growth in bioenergy needs to be carefully managed and coordinated if we are to make the most of its benefits and resolve its challenges,” Müller said.

The Global Bionergy Partnership (GBEP) is an international initiative established to implement the commitments taken by the G8 +5 Countries (Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Italy, Mexico, Russian Federation, South Africa, the UK and the USA) in the Gleneagles Plan of Action in 2005. Its goal is to “support wider, cost-effective biomass and biofuels deployment, particularly in developing countries where biomass use is prevalent.”

It was invited by the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, in June 2007 to 'continue its work on biofuel best practices and take forward the successful and sustainable development of bioenergy'. The partnership is chaired by Corrado Clini, Director General of the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea. FAO hosts the GBEP Secretariat, with the support of Italy.

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