25 Juni 2015

Bioenergy is key to a low-carbon future

Bioenergy is a key driver in delivering a more sustainable future, according to a new report on the expansion of global bioenergy use and production

The report, Bioenergy & Sustainability: Bridging the Gaps, was led by researchers from the Sao Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) in Brazil, and contains contributions from more than 130 experts from 24 countries.

Scientific studies were developed that assessed topics ranging from land use and feedstocks, to technologies, impacts, benefits and policy. The report examined how bioenergy expansion impacts four themes:

  1. Energy security
  2. Food Security
  3. Environmental and Climate security
  4. Sustainable Development and Innovation

“Bioenergy derived from plants can play an essential role in satisfying the world’s growing energy demand, mitigating climate change, sustainably feeding a growing population, improving socio-economic equity, minimising ecological disruption and preserving biodiversity,” the authors said.

Biofuels could provide 30% of transport fuel by 2050

Currently bioenergy contributes approximately 10% of the world’s primary energy supply. Bioethanol and biodiesel provide about 3% of the world’s transportation fuels, but biofuels could provide up to 30 % by 2050 with projected improvements in technology. Bioenergy – developed knowledgeably and implemented considering local and regional needs – can also help, the report said.

The report contributors agreed that modern bioenergy “will be necessary to achieve a low-carbon future.” They added that the idea that the large-scale use of bioenergy compromises efforts to meet these challenges is “unsupported by the current scientific evidence when bioenergy practices are implemented properly.”

The study suggested that bioenergy can improve energy security for over 1.3 billion people with no access to electricity, lift rural areas out of poverty, and ultimately “secure a sustainable and equitable future” for both developing and developed nations.

“The resources and technologies for the transition from fossil to renewable energy are within our reach,” the report said. However the authors warn that “achieving the critical contributions needed from modern bioenergy call for political and individual will.”

The report found that land availability is not a limiting factor. Bioenergy can contribute to sustainable energy supplies even with increasing food demands, preservation of forests, protected lands, and rising urbanization. While it is projected that 50 to 200 million hectares would be needed to provide 10 to 20% of primary energy supply in 2050, available land that does not compromise the uses above is estimated to be at least 500 million hectares and possibly 900 million hectares if pasture intensification or water-scarce, marginal and degraded land is considered.

30% of global fuel supply could be biobased by 2050

The report also outlines how:

  • New technologies can provide communities with food security, fuel, economic and social development while effectively using water, nutrients and other resources
  • The use of bioenergy, if done thoughtfully, can actually help lower air and water pollution
  • ioenergy initiatives monitored and implemented, hand in hand with good governance, can protect biodiversity, and provide ecosystems services
  • Efficiency gains and sustainable practices of recent bioenergy systems can help contribute to a low-carbon economy by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and assisting carbon mitigation efforts
  • With current knowledge and projected improvements 30% of the world’s fuel supply could be biobased by 2050

Research and development, good governance and innovative business models are essential to address knowledge gaps and foster innovation across the value chain. With these measures, the report argues, a sustainable future is more easily achieved with bioenergy than without it, and not using the bioenergy option would result in significant risks and costs for regions, countries and the planet.

NNFCC’s CEO and Lead Consultant on Biofuels, Dr Jeremy Tomkinson, said: “This  report is a useful informed contribution to a debate that more often attracts uninformed comment and opinion”.

He added: “Biomass can be secured sustainably, but it’s important that there are safeguards to show that appropriate principles have been followed, and claims are independently verified – which is what is demanded of biomass used in the UK.”

To view the full report click here.

Source: NNFCC, 2015-06-15.

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