27 März 2006

Biofuels for transport provide a rosy future, according to draft report

A final draft of the Biofuels Research Advisory Council (BIOFRAC) vision report, entitled “Biofuels in the European Union. A Vision for 2030 and Beyond”, has been published, pushing strongly for investment in biofuels, especially second generation biofuels, which offer the greatest CO2efficiencies.

23.03.2006. BIOFRAC was set-up early in 2005 as a DG Research initiative to pull together different research strands and provide a focus on biomass to transportation fuels. The authors hope the vision report will support Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) initiatives.
The vision BIOFRAC proposes is that, “By 2030, the European Union covers as much as one fourth of its road transport fuel needs by clean and CO2-efficient biofuels”, which they believe will in turn stimulate innovative technologies, and growth in the biomass, biofuel and automotive sectors. The report paints an optimistic picture should this target be achieved, with several win-win situations.

Today, transport accounts for 30 per cent of the total energy consumption in the EU, with 98 per cent of that transport energy spend on fossil fuels. All fossil fuels contribute to CO2 emissions and climate change. An advantage of using biofuels is that the CO2 released will be environmentally neutral, as the CO2 used to generate the biomass and the CO2 released will be the same, leaving no net increase in CO2.

Investment in biofuels would have the double advantage of contributing to CO2 emission targets and helping to secure the EU fuel supply. A large boost in biofuels could have significant consequences for how our countryside looks. Estimates range from four to13 per cent for the amount of EU agricultural land that would need to be used for growing biofuel crops to entirely replace fossil fuels. The authors believe that this could “facilitate the absorption of the agricultural sector in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).”

The authors estimate that 45,000 to 75,000 new jobs will be created for each per cent of fossil fuels that biofuels replace. If biofuels do indeed contribute one quarter of the energy needed, this would represent up to 551,250 new jobs across the EU, and all in rural areas.

The report approves the tactics of the Commission in pushing for a Technology Platform for biofuels, which the advisory board hopes will stimulate excellence across the field.

In the EU today, most biofuels come from rapeseed, concentrated in Germany, France and Italy. Germany gives 100 per cent biodiesel a full tax exemption, with the result that use of this fuel has increased dramatically, and is now available at more than 1,500 fuelling stations throughout Germany. The EU is the world leader in the production of biodiesel. The rest of the world’s output of biofuels is concentrated in Brazil, the world leader in bioethanol.

Other fuels, such as biogas and pure vegetable oil, are used in some public transport schemes, but currently contribute very little to the overall market.

The report’s analysis shows that energy needs will increase by 0.6 per cent year-on-year, with energy imports increasing drastically from 47.1 per cent to 67.5 per cent by 2030. Road freight traffic will continue to increase and account for 77.4 per cent of freight transport, pushing up the proportion of fuel used by freight vehicles. Air travel will continue to increase, as will demand for aviation fuel.

Because engine technology is not expected to develop significantly, transport will still rely on current petrol and diesel-style fuels. But, as the freight fleet increases, so will the demand for diesel, which will in turn generate a shortage of both diesel and kerosene, but a relative glut of petrol. This could present an opportunity for the biodiesel industry, which could plug this diesel gap with biodiesel as it opens. “Fuels from biomass, therefore, have a high potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and hence are an important means to fulfil road transport CO2 emissions targets. They can be a reliable fuel source, which can gradually reduce dependence on oil imports, and, if further developed, can constitute part of a strategic reserve.”

The report points out that “Biomass in electricity has the greatest greenhouse gas benefits and biomass in heating is the cheapest, transport biofuels have the highest employment intensity and the greatest security of supply benefits.” This indicates a potential win-win-win for biofuels across the energy markets.

A three-pronged approach to develop biofuels is outlined: First, using current foodstocks, such as wheat, as the source crop to manufacture biodiesels and other biofuels. Second, exploiting “waste” or residues from agriculture, which will require advances in technological development between 2010 and 2020, developing the manufacture of “second generation” biofuels. Finally, growing special biomass crops, which, the report stresses, should be explored to ascertain biodiversity impact. These crops may be GM products separate from the food chain.

A summary of biofuel terminology:

  • First Generation fuels – from simple, accessible technologies and chemical processes, such as fermentation.
  • Bioethanol – high purity alcohol produced from cash crops such as sugar beet or grains. Vehicles may need specially modified engines at proportions over 25 per cent ethanol-petrol mix.
  • Pure Vegetable Oil – just as you could use in the kitchen, produced from seeds or rape, and can be used in modified diesel engines.
  • Biodiesel – oil crops or waste cooking oils are put through a transesterification process to yield biodiesels.
  • Biogas – bacteria digest waste organic matter, yielding fuel gas under pressure.
  • Bio-ETBE – bio-ethanol is turned, through a chemical process, into ethyl tertiary butyl ether (ETBE), which burns like ethanol, but can be used as an addition to conventional fuels without engine modifications.
  • Second Generation Biofuels – fuels made from cellulose-rich material currently difficult to exploit.

To access the report, please visit:

Source: Cordis-News March 22, 2006.

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