IAS Fellow's Public Lecture: Biofuels - Where Do We Go from Here?
There has been a resurgence of global interest since the 1970's to exploit energy-rich, renewable bio-resources and replace fossil oil-based, bulk chemicals. Prompted by the triple drivers, energy supply security; oil price volatility; and climate change mitigation, R&D investment in advanced biotechnologies to develop bio-based products and liquid biofuels has racked up, and we expect the first commercial lignocellulosic ethanol plant in operation in the US in 2012.
In Europe, the European Commission seeks to "support the shift towards a low carbon economy, increase the use of renewable energy sources, modernise our transport sector and promote energy efficiency" and has set out mandatory targets to achieve these goals (20% of energy across the EU is to be renewable (15% in the UK); 10% of the energy used in transport is to be renewable and a minimum reduction in GHG emissions from road transport of 6% is sought). However, 72% of Europe's agricultural land would be required to produce 10% of its fuel consumption, but 62.4% of available agricultural land is needed for the production of food and feed. Achievement of biofuel adoption targets could consequently impact negatively on biomass-producing economies such as in sub-Saharan Africa and unwittingly promote unsustainable agricultural practice. It could also reinforce the dependency of these nations on the lowest value part of the supply chain, namely biomass production and encourage exploitative stakeholder approaches. On the other hand, the EU commitment to biofuels could provide biomass-producing economies with lucrative cash-crop opportunities, employment opportunities and rural incomes as well as GDP.
This paper will examine whether there is a pathway to a more sustainable future using biofuels: it will focus on decentralised bioenergy production by Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems; introduce the concept of biorefineries, and ask whether algal glycerol might become the fuel of the future.
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