To have an assertion long made in support of increasing the use of biofuels to power our transportation system reinforced by a multinational collaboration of scientists is the kind of support stakeholders welcome in current times.
A global bioenergy assessment detailed at a recent EU-sponsored sustainability event in Brussels says biofuels could meet nearly one third of the world’s transportation fuel needs by 2050, serve as a key driver toward a low-carbon future and, if properly developed, present no threat to food security.
“With current knowledge and projected improvements, 30 percent of the world’s fuel supply could be biobased by 2050,” says Bioenergy and Sustainability, a study undertaken over the past two years by 137 experts from 24 countries and 82 institutions working together to analyze a range of issues related to the sustainability of bioenergy production and use.
The report makes clear that bioenergy derived from plants can play an essential role in satisfying the world’s growing energy demand (including that generated by transportation), mitigating climate change, sustainably feeding a growing population, improving socio-economic equity, minimizing ecological disruption and preserving biodiversity.
The nearly 800-page report considers how bioenergy expansion impacts existing energy systems, food production, environmental and climate security, and sustainable development in both developed and developing regions. It offers science-based recommendations for policy formulation and for the deployment of a range of bioenergy use options such as liquid biofuels, bioelectricity, biogas and bio-based chemicals, among others, in different regions of the world.
The analysis calls attention to the value of bioenergy as an alternative power source and an option to reduce the impact of fossil fuel combustion. It also highlights the opportunities for enhancement of energy security and mitigation of climate change through advanced biomass conversion technologies that would also help to offset the negative environmental impact of deforestation and land degradation due to agriculture and cattle grazing.
Another conclusion reached by the authors is that bioenergy production systems based on sustainable practices can help to offset greenhouse gas emissions resulting from land use changes or loss of biodiversity. They cite available technologies and procedures include combinations of different feedstocks, use of co-products, integration of bioenergy with agriculture, pasture intensification, agro-ecological zoning, landscape-level planning, improving yields, and other land management practices adapted to local conditions.
The authors also affirm that sufficient land is available worldwide for expansion of biomass cultivation and that the use of these areas for bioenergy production would not represent a threat to food security and biodiversity under certain conditions.
In fact, they assert that modern bioenergy could “help improve food security by optimizing land productivity and agricultural management.” Moreover, they present evidence that soil improvement technologies, production chain integration and use of bioenergy byproducts in poor rural areas could boost economic performance, enhance food quality, reduce pollution and create jobs.
“Bioenergy can be a driver to transform the way we use resources and land,” the authors say. “Inefficiently used land, extensive pastures, degraded lands and excess agricultural capacity and residues can be used for energy production and bring added value and resilience into agricultural economies and human wellbeing.”
It’s a strong message from an extremely credible source that needs to be carried to policy makers who are constantly being buffeted by anti-renewable interests intent on holding on to a dominant share of the energy market. Ongoing debates like that over the Renewable Fuel Standard and other policy incentives aimed at accelerating clean energy development must be carried by forward-thinking advocates who understand that a failure to acknowledge the need to transition away from fossil fuels can only lead to continued environmental degradation, human health problems and needless national security costs.