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UN Agency Sees Biofuels Providing up to 25% of Global Energy; Sets Up International Bioenergy Platform

25 April 2006

Under the pressure of soaring oil prices and growing environmental constraints due to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming, momentum is gathering for a major international switch from fossil fuels to biofuels, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

FAO’s focus on the issue lies more with the likely impact on small farmers and the implications for food security and rural development than on the larger geo-political and energy impacts.

The gradual move away from oil has begun. Over the next 15 to 20 years we may see biofuels providing a full 25 percent of the world’s energy needs. Oil at more than 70 dollars a barrel makes bioenergy potentially more competitive. Also, in the last decade global environmental concerns and energy consumption patterns have built up pressure to introduce more renewable energy into national energy plans and to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.

—Alexander Müller, Assistant Director-General for the Sustainable Development Department, FAO

FAO’s interest in bioenergy stems from the positive impact that energy crops are expected to have on rural economies and from the opportunity offered countries to diversify their energy sources.

Farmers, particularly in tropical areas, are seeing new opportunities for increasing production and raising their incomes. But we also need to be careful. We need to plan. Competition for land between food and energy production needs to be converted to positive common benefits

—Gustavo Best, FAO Senior Energy Coordinator

One hazard, according to FAO, is that large-scale promotion of bioenergy relying on intensive cash-crop monocultures could see the sector dominated by a few agri-energy giants without any significant gains for small farmers. But to date no comprehensive attempt has been made to address the welter of technical, policy and institutional problems involved.

In order to fill this gap, FAO has set up an International Bioenergy Platform (IBEP), to be officially presented at the United Nations in New York on May 9. The IBEP will provide expertise and advice for governments and private operators to formulate bioenergy policies and strategies. It will also help them develop the tools to quantify bioenergy resources and implications for sustainable development on a country-by-country basis.

It will further assist in the formulation of national bioenergy programs, drawing on FAO’s experience in promoting national, regional and global bioenergy development.

The aim is to help us grow both enough fuel and enough food, and make sure that everyone benefits in the process.

—Alexander Müller

April 25, 2006 in Biodiesel, Biomass, Ethanol | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

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The veil has fallen from their eyes!

They are beginning to learn what we have been discussing for years.

The forecast strikes me as a little optimistic, not because of technology but because of basic economics and politics. The oil & gas industry is not going to give up its highly profitable turf without a fight, which may include cornering the emerging biofuels market.

Sadly, it is also fanciful to believe that Western agrobusinesses will allow smallhold farmers in tropical countries to make a great deal of money off their land. Their governments, often dominated by wealthy landlords or a particular ethnic group, often show little interest in bettering the lot of the very poor, because the status quo already gives them the levers of power.

As for the feedstocks themselves, sugar-rich or oil seed crops will indeed compete for arable land with food crops. That does not mean that they are a bad idea for developing countries. On the contrary, reduced birth rates would be the most effective way to increase average household incomes of the world's poor. Therefore, any policies designed to encourage the planting of fuel crops should be accompanied by family planning education for both sexes (minus the wagging finger of the religious right).

Technologies for processing agricultural waste into biofuels may well be too expensive for developing countries, at least initially.

I have said many times on this forum that, inevitably, if we follow this biofuel course we will eventually have food competing with fuel, with the exploding world population expecting to continue to expand. We may be able to drive anywhere we want, we just may not have enough to eat.

If farmers are given a choice between producing delicate food crops, like edible corn which may spoil, or mature hard corn which has a much larger/later window of harvest for ethanol and is much harder to spoil, which will they choose? Especially if this ethanol market expands as planned and is much more lucrative, financially. What would you do if you were a farmer? And if biodiesel prices (soybeans or switch grass) are more profitable than ethanol, what do you think the farmers will plant?? That may create even more unstable fuel supplies than we CURRENTLY have.

I dont have any answers, but feel eventually battery/capacitator powered cars will be the better answer. Maybe there should be a world wide competition to develop these technologies, much like that private space plane competition a couple of years ago won by Burt Rutan. I also think one of the major racing series, like the IRL, Cart, F-1 or Nascar, should run with the electric/capacitator/hybrid idea and use it and develop it. Theres nothing like racing competition to spur development (other than war).

I think this organization is aware of these potential farm impacts, but have no answer to it.

Prius vs Insight on a Formula 1 track would be interesting to see.

Back on topic we need to closely watch where the biofuel profits in America go. Most food profits do not go to farmers now so expect the same with biofuels. Pennies for farmers and dollars for Wall Street.

"I also think one of the major racing series, like the IRL, Cart, F-1 or Nascar, should run with the electric/capacitator/hybrid idea and use it and develop it. Theres nothing like racing competition to spur development"

I don't believe racing competition has done anything to spur development of SUSTAINABLE energy, quite the contrary it is just an extension of corporate excess. It would be interesting to see how much petroleum is wasted in racing, going round and round, going nowhere fast..


Very little. They run on pure Methanol.

Increase use of biofuels = More Palm oil and soya bean production = The total destruction of the world's rainforests.

It's that simple.

The answer is less consumption not another crazy scheme to allow people to continue driving SUVs.

Scare scenario of fuel crops versus food crops are highly hypothetical. Food crop derived biofuel will never be economically competitive to more conventional fuel (with partial exception of waste derived fuel, such as cellulosic ethanol). The highest efficiency of sun light energy conversion at ideal conditions for some champion plant (I do not remember the species) to biomass energy is less then 3%. And this is without taking into account of energy consumed for cultivation, fertilization, harvest, and conversion to liquid fuel (using practically only small portion of the plant). Solar PV panel have 20% efficiency without all this troubles.

As I aid in anouther topic the fatal flaw to the tropics making out fuel is once oil runs out transporting the fuel will cost too much. Its one thing to transport biofuel using bunker fuel but transporting it using biofuel would be about 30x the cost.

I call shenanigans on the anti-biofuel scaremongers.

Biodiesel at least is best produced from algae, which could be grown in aquaculture on the ocean or in land tanks with estimates of production in the 5k to 20k gallons per acre/year... No rainforest necessary.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algaculture#Biodiesel_production

Also, given the huge farm subsidies that go on in the developed world, coupled with huge gluts from enhanced technical agriculture, the world market could stand to have demand for glutted products grow by 500% or more. That'd let us reduce or eliminate farm handouts and apply that money to more useful things like bridges to nowhere.

Nope, I see biofuels as a great boon and in comparison to our existing problems they are a pretty huge win.


Well said, Otis. I agree with you. Biofuels is the way to go.

Peering through the glass darkly, I see many others pissing into the wind.

"...5k to 20k gallons per acre per year"

Yep. Comes with fries.

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