Global biofuel use could increase more than 13-fold by 2050 and meet more than a quarter of demand for transportation fuel, without jeopardising food and environmental security, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has said.
In a biofuel roadmap released on Wednesday, the IEA says worldwide biofuel consumption could rise from 55 million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe) today, to 750Mtoe by 2050 – provided the right policies and technology developments are in place.
The IEA puts the cost of meeting the roadmap targets at between $11 trillion and $13 trillion from 2010 through 2050, “depending on production costs”. However, it argues: “The marginal savings or additional costs compared to use of gasoline/diesel are in the range of only +/-1% of total costs for all transport fuels.”
By 2050, biofuel could power 27% of the transportation sector, up from 2% today, displacing conventional fuels such as diesel and jet fuel and avoiding around 2.1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, the report says.
To meet this goal without compromising food security and biodiversity, the IEA argues the conversion efficiency and cost of biofuel technologies must be improved while advanced biofuel technology must be more rapidly deployed. In addition, governments must enact stable, long-term policies that incentivise biofuel development and consider food, agricultural and social concerns.
"Government action is needed to provide a stable, long-term policy framework for biofuels that allows for sustained investments in biofuel expansion. Specific support measures that address the high investment risk currently associated with pre-commercial advanced biofuel technologies will be vital to trigger industry investments in first commercial plants," said Bo Diczfalusy, director of sustainable energy policy and technology at the IEA.
With appropriate support in place, most biofuel technologies could become cost competitive with fossil fuels by 2030, the report says, with scale and efficiency improvements reducing production costs over time.
Meeting the 2050 goal would require the production of 65 exajoules of feedstock grown on about 100 million hectares, and a further 80 exajoules of biomass to generate heat and power for production, the IEA estimates.
An exajoule measures the energy content of biomass feedstock before conversion to final energy. One exajoule equals 1018 joules.
"This poses a considerable challenge given competition for land and feedstocks from rapidly growing demand for food and fibre," the report said. "However, with a sound policy framework in place, it should be possible to provide the required 145 exajoules of total biomass for biofuels, heat and electricity from residues and wastes, along with sustainably grown energy crops."
By. Charlotte Dudley
Source: Environmental Finance