Can Biofuels be sustainable?

Biofuelwatch works to raise awareness of the negative impacts of industrial biofuels and bioenergy on biodiversity, human rights, food sovereignty and climate change. Biofuelwatch works with national and international partners to expose and oppose the social and environmental damages resulting from bioenergy-driven increased demand for industrial agriculture and forestry monocultures. Biofuelwatch is European Focal Point of the Global Forest Coalition. Read more about Biofuelwatch, find out why biofuels can be a problem.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) is a key multi-stakeholder initiative to develop international standards for the sustainability of biofuels. The Roundtable is an initiative of the Swiss EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne) Energy Center. The goal of the RSB is to create and implement a certification system based on these standards to ensure that biofuels deliver on their promise of sustainability. Read more about the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels here

Sustainability of Biofuels in Africa

Biofuels have been promoted as an environmentally-sustainable solution to the global energy crisis, and a way to counterbalance global increases in CO2. The reality is more complex; under some circumstances biofuels can be a major environmental and socio-economic threat. The question then is: under what circumstances can biofuels be socially and environmentally beneficial? Southern Africa, and especially the southern African countries other than South Africa, have characteristics that make them potentially suited to biofuel production, including the availability of land and labour. The different sustainability aspects pertaining to a biofuels industry in the region are investigated in this report-Assessing the Sustainability of Bioenergy Projects in Developing Countries

The combined effects of climate change, the continued volatility of fuel prices, the recent food crisis and global economic turbulence have triggered a sense of urgency among policymakers, industries and development practitioners to find sustainable and viable solutions in the area of biofuels. This sense of urgency is reflected in the rapid expansion of global biofuels production and markets over the past few years. Biofuels development offers developing countries some prospect of self-reliant energy supplies at national and local levels, with potential economic, ecological, social, and security benefits. Forty-two African countries are net oil importers. This makes them particularly vulnerable to volatility in global fuelprices and dependent on foreign exchange to cover their domestic energy needs. The goal therefore is to reduce the high dependence on imported petroleum by developing domestic, renewable energy. But can this objective be achieved while leaving a minimal social and environmental footprint? A fundamental question is if biofuels can be produced with consideration of social, economic and environmental factors without setting unrealistic expectation for an evolving renewable energy industry that holds such great promise. The overall performance of different biofuels in reducing non-renewable energy use and greenhouse gas emissions varies when considering the entire lifecycle from production through to use. The net performance depends on the type of feedstock, the production process and the amount of nonrenewable energy needed. This paper presents an overview of the development of biofuels in Africa, and highlights country-specific economic, environmental and social issues. It proposes a combination framework of policy incentives as a function of technology maturity, discusses practices, processes and technologies that can improve efficiency, lower energy and water demand, and further reduce the social and environmental footprint of biofuels production thereby contributing to sustainable development. Read more about Biofuels and Sustainability in Africa

Energy from Invasive Alien Plants on the Agulhas plains

The burdens of clearing invasive alien plants can be reduced by IAP biomass-to-energy projects (IAP2ENERGY).  In order to assess the complete costs and benefits of technology and processing options for generating energy from IAPs, the BIOSSAM decision-support system was applied.  This approach combines a  sustainability planning process with multi-stakeholder participation and decision support so that there is transparency and accountability in decision-making. A multi-stakeholder engagement process was used to develop the vision, principles, criteria and indicators that can be used to guide the assessment and a management of IAP2ENERGY interventions. The different scenarios (technology options) were assessed by scoring using the weighting and complimentary data to reveal the most appropriate IAP2ENERGY scenarios…
Read more in:
to ABI and stakeholders: (Bredasdorp 17/03/2011). BIOSSAM IAP2Energy case study on the Agulhas Plains
*Two-page summary of the project findings: BIOSSAM IAP2Energy project Brief
*Full report: IAP2Energy Project Final Report

The EU Virtual Bioenergy R&D Centre

Bioenergy is a promising source to generate more secure, sustainable, and renewable energy in Europe.  The European Union intends to cut its combined greenhouse gas emissions by 8% from their 1990 levels by 2010, mainly by substituting renewable energy sources (RES) for fossil fuels.  The EU also set a target to double the output of renewable energy sources from 6% to 12% by 2010.  Bioenergy is predicted to make up the largest share of all RES in Europe mainly because it is constantly available and it can be stored.  The rapid and efficient development of bioenergy, from the harvesting of crops or waste through to developing end markets, has never been more important. The Bioenergy Network of Excellence (NoE) is a European group of eight leading bioenergy institutes that are integrating our RD&D activities to create a Virtual Bioenergy R&D Centre that will lead to the most technologically and economically efficient biomass and bioenergy industrial sector.

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