8 September 2011

Fuels Case Study: Worldwide production of biofuels reaches record high

According to a new report by the Worldwatch Institute, biofuel production around the globe increased 17 per cent in 2010 to reach an all-time high of 105 billion litres

The increase in biofuel production is being driven by high oil prices, a global economic rebound and new laws encouraging the use of renewable fuels, according to the report. Ethanol continues to dominate production, making up 82 per cent of the global biofuels market.

The US remain the worlds largest producer of biofuels, producing some 49 billion litres of bioethanol, made mostly from maize. An interesting point to emerge from the report is that due to unsteady ethanol production in Brazil, the US became a net exporter of the fuel for the first time in 2010, sending a record 1.3 billion litres abroad, which is a 300 per cent increase over 2009 figures.

However, proposed legislation in the US could cut current ethanol production subsidies, making sugarcane ethanol from Brazil more prevalent. Although sugarcane ethanol has the benefit of being cheaper and more efficient to produce says the report, there are concerns that increased production will speed deforestation in Brazil as more land is cleared for feedstock cultivation.

Brazil came a distant second to the US in 2010, producing 28 billion litres of ethanol. Sugarcane is the dominant source of ethanol in Brazil and every third car-owner in Brazil drives a “flex-fuel” vehicle that can run on either fossil or bio-based fuels. Many Brazilian drivers have switched to sugarcane ethanol because it is cheaper than gasoline. Although vehicle performance can be reduced by switching to bioethanol.

“In the United States, the record production of biofuels is attributed in part to high oil prices, which encouraged several large fuel companies, including Sunoco, Valero, Flint Hills, and Murphy Oil, to enter the ethanol industry,” said Alexander Ochs, Director of Worldwatch’s Climate and Energy Program.

“Although the US and Brazil are the world leaders in ethanol, the largest producer of biodiesel is the European Union, which generated 53 per cent of all biodiesel in 2010,” said Ochs. “However, we may see some European countries switch from biodiesel to ethanol because a recent report from the European Commission states that ethanol crops have a higher energy content than biodiesel crops, making them more efficient sources of fuel.”

Europe is the leading worldwide producer of biodiesel, making over 10 billion litres of biodiesel from waste cooking oils and virgin plant oils. This figure represents a 12 per cent increase from 2009. Biodiesel production is also growing in countries like Argentina and Canada, where new blending mandates are encouraging investment in new facilities to increase production.

Source: National Center for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials (NNFCC), press release, 2011-09-08.


Share on Twitter+1Share on FacebookShare on XingShare on LinkedInShare via email