Looking Ahead with Advanced Biofuels

20 October 2016| Articles

Today’s modern world is one defined by mobility. From people commuting across a city for work or traversing the globe for an annual holiday, to industries shipping raw materials and final products, transportation is at the core of so many things we do. Unfortunately this freedom relies on a transport sector that accounts for around a third of the world’s energy use, half of its oil consumption and a fifth of its greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve the goal of reducing global CO­2 emissions and adverting irreversible climate change, the world must look to a host of sustainable transport options, including advanced liquid biofuels — fuels derived from feedstocks as agriculture residues, woody material and algae — to provide a practical fossil fuel alternative for powering airplanes, ships, and heavy freight trucks.

IRENA’s latest report, Innovation Outlook: Advanced Liquid Biofuels, the second in the Innovation Outlook series which includes a renewable mini-grid report and a offshore wind power report, reveals a future global outlook for advanced liquid biofuel technology. It provides a detailed overview of the promising technological developments for commercialised advanced biofuel production to the year 2045.

Meeting our goals

There is no way to meet our ambitious climate change targets without addressing transportation, and the fastest, most-cost effective route to low carbon transport is via advanced biofuels,” says Jim Lane, Editor and Publisher of Biofuels Digest, an external reviewer of the report.

“An additional benefit of advanced biofuels is that they can be used in the same engines, fuel pumps and drive trains but produce profound reductions in carbon when compared to fossil gasoline and diesel,” Lane adds.

Advanced biofuels typically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 95 per cent compared to fossil fuel, placing them in a unique position as the only viable alternative to mitigate carbon emissions from the aviation sector — an industry which represents a market around 380 billion litres of jet fuel per year.

After decades of technology development and innovation, advanced biofuels are now reaching commercialisation, as more than a billion litres of advanced biofuels production capacity is already available and additional two billion litres are under construction worldwide.

Despite this, the pace of fuel development must accelerate and projects will have to be developed in a wider range of locations if advanced liquid biofuels are to realize their full practical and economic potential for displacing fossil fuels.

Encouraging benefits

In addition to being an environmentally responsible alternative to fossil fuels, advanced biofuel industries bring a host of important socio-economic benefits, including job creation. Advanced Liquid Biofuels highlights a Nevada ethanol plant as an example that has nurtured economic growth. Close to 500 local farmers in a 50 km radius of the plant, supply agro-residues for the operation of the plant, and this has resulted in the creation of close to 85 full-time jobs and 150 seasonal local renewable energy jobs.

To decarbonise the transport sector, the report urges decisive support from policy-makers to make advanced biofuels a competitive, by enabling markets and enterprise formation, which can restore investment momentum. To ensure that advanced biofuel plants continue to be built and their costs continue to decline, policies and business models needs to advance alongside technological innovation.

The report indicates that by 2045, ad­vanced biofuels are likely to cost between USD 0.60 and USD 1.10 per litre to produce, meaning that with oil prices above USD 100 per barrel, most advanced biofuels should be able to compete effectively. But the report also predicts that if oil prices are below USD 80 per bar­rel, advanced biofuels produc­tion would have a difficult time competing with fossil based gasoline and diesel. Therefore, there is an urgent need for decisive policy actions that will unlock the potential for advanced liquid biofuels, and enable innovative business models to co-produce high value products along with biofuels.

To learn more about advanced biofuels and its future development over the next 30 years, read the full report on the IRENA website.