Should we be growing crops for fuel?
Futures Forum: Food for fuel... anaerobic digestion... and farming in Devon
Futures Forum: Biofuel: food vs fuel
There is quite a lobby out there - and here is the press statement from a conference earlier this month:
Home - EUBCE- 24th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition
With a nice overview from RuSource of the Arthur Rank Centre:
Bioenergy and a bio-based economy
Bioenergy can provide 10%-30% of all total CO2 emission reductions needed but only as part of a
bio-based economy producing renewable energy, food and materials. This would mean doubling the
current use of biomass and would be sufficient to meet the expected demand both for carbon neutral
fuels and materials, without competing with food production. When agriculture is modernised over
time, exploiting yield gaps and efficiency improvements, there should be both enough food production
capacity to feed the world with less land and to produce bioenergy on the surplus land. This can also
lead to considerable improvements in carbon stocks on that same land, reduced water use per unit of
output, lower GHG emissions and more efficient use of nutrients.
This paper summarises the 24th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam,
“Bioenergy integrated in the bio-based economy crucial to meet climate targets”
The 24th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition in Amsterdam has provided a unique
overview of the state of play of the sector and a much clearer view than before of the role biomass
can play in achieving the transition to a low carbon economy.
After the historical Climate agreement at COP 21, international institutions and scientific organisations
agree that biomass and the bio-based economy are crucial to meet the 2 degrees target of climate
Scientific evidence indicates that 730 Gt (billion tonnes) out of the 1,000 Gt of carbon budget available
to keep global temperatures below this threshold were already consumed, therefore the time we have
to put in place effective measures is limited. We need low carbon solutions that deliver now and the
sustainable use of biomass is undoubtedly included. Bioenergy itself can provide 10%-30% of all total
CO2 emission reductions needed and this should be achieved by putting bioenergy in the integrated
context of the bio-based economy, in order to maximize the efficiency of how we use this resource, to
produce renewable energy, food and materials.
A careful review of the available scientific literature indicates that mobilising one billion dry tons of
ligno-cellulosic biomass by 2030 in Europe is possible and this can be done sustainably. This would
mean doubling the current use of biomass and would be sufficient to meet the expected demand both
for carbon neutral fuels and materials, without competing with food production.
Unsustainable displacement of food and loss of forest cover can be readily avoided by means of
higher resource efficiency in agriculture, livestock management and by restoration of degraded lands.
This can also provide major synergies between sustainable Bio-based economy and sustainable,
resource efficient food production. State-of-the-art analysis shows that when agriculture and livestock
are modernised over time, exploiting yield gaps and efficiency improvements in management, there is
both enough food production capacity to feed the world with less land and to produce bioenergy on
the surplus land. This can also lead to considerable improvements in carbon stocks on that same
land, reduced water use per unit of output, lower GHG emissions and more efficient use of nutrients.
Such necessary improvements are also highly desirable from a food security perspective, alleviating
poverty, enhancing rural development and making agriculture more resilient to climate change.
Similar reasoning holds for forest management, where integrated strategies can enhance forest
productivity, maintain or improve carbon stocks, protect biodiversity and maintain the vitality of
One of the biggest opportunities lies in the revitalisation of marginal and degraded lands by (re-
)planting them with trees and grasses. Permanent vegetation cover can over time restore soil
structure, water retention functions, minimise soil erosion and improve overall productivity. This
changes the perspective on bioenergy from hedging problems to achieving synergies with better
After decades of continuous research and technological development, a number of large scale
demonstration plants is proving that biomass can be effectively converted into energy, advanced
biofuels and bio-based products. Recognising the value of those good examples is fundamental to
build the consensus needed for finally setting a clear, stable European policy framework, which is still
lacking, but is essential to enable the widespread development of the bio-based economy.
The attention of policy makers and media has been focussed too much on possible negative effects of
bioenergy. Attention needs to shift to the positive results that the bio-based economy can deliver in
achieving the low carbon economy.
"This conference demonstrated that there are high level talents working on these issues," said Prof.
André Faaij, conference general chairman in his concluding remarks. "It is now about how do we link
all this good work to the right arena. Now we need to ensure close interplay and engagement of the
research community, the industry and the governance arena. I would like to call upon all the key
players in the field, especially international bodies such as UN, FAO, IRENA, IEA, EC, to organize the
debate and to give it the focus it needs to solve the problems to progress," he said.
He also launched the idea to form a coalition among the GBEP, the Global Environment Facility, the
European Commission and the Energy Coalition of the world billionaires, to discuss how to support a
series of large scale demonstrations of sustainable biomass production in different settings,
integrating bio-refineries, BECCS (bioenergy with carbon capture and storage), and bio-chemicals.
Alan Spedding, 14 June 2016