The Biofuels equation

What is the current situation in developing and developed countries concerning the production of biofuels?In economic terms, first-generation biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel posit divergent stories across countries. In Brazil Bioethanol production costs have declined after sustained efforts by the government since the mid-1970s, with research and development, an integrated institutional approach and yield enhancement. The same can't be said of India's bioethanol programme, which began in 2003. Bioethanol programmes to accelerate the reduction of carbon emissions also have a long way to go in other developing countries of South Asia, including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Within the Europe an Union (EU) and the US but also India and parts of Africa (Burundi and Burkina Faso among others), biofuel production costs have failed to come down, partly due to a lack of standardised germplasm and feedstock variety to generate adequate biofuel supply.

What are the likely trends for the future?Policies such as the EU's Renewable Energy Directive have directed demand for biofuels towards end-use sectors such as transportations, raising critics. A study publish by four environmental groups called for the EU to modify its rules to use less damaging crop-based biofuels in transport. In October 2012, the European commission published a proposal to limit the use of food-based biofuels to meet the 10% renewable energy target of the Renewable Energy Directive.

Therefore investors and technology producers have moved away from developed countries and tapped into biofuels resources in Asia and Africa to meet their domestic energy demands, supplemented by merchandise trade routes under various bilateral and unilateral agreements.

What are, if any the environment and economic risk associated with biofuels?Investors in biofuels frequently disregard the social, economic and environmental implication of biofuel production such as the rise of food prices.

This argument is outlined in Biofuels Delusion: The Fallacy of Large Scale Agro-Biofuels Productions, where authors Mario Giempietro and Kozo Mayumi denounce the overhyped promise of biofuels as a replacement to fossils. They highlight the danger of biofuel production driven to a large extent by profit and simultaneously ignoring sustainability implication. Second-generation fuels (Cellulosic ethanol ) and the possibility of cultivating marginal areas, unsuitable for food production are cited as more effective ways of using biofuels.

Which measures should countries adopt to fully realize the benefits of biofuels?Biofuel offer a promising alternative to the twin challenges of meeting raising energy demand and addressing climate change. Conscious decisions, sharing of information as well as financial and technical assistance will be necessary to minimize the risks.