Food in the Age of Biofuels
by Jose Graziano da Silva (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization/Project Syndicate) … But this is a false dichotomy. The choice cannot be between food and fuel. We can make good use of both. Given the right conditions, biofuels can be an effective means to increase food security by providing poor farmers with a sustainable and affordable energy source.
In some land-locked African countries, gasoline costs three times the global average, making fuel prices one of the main barriers to agricultural growth. Extending the use of biofuels in these regions could boost productivity and create new employment opportunities, especially in rural areas. The effect could be made even stronger if the additional demand for feedstock created by biofuels was met by family farmers and small-scale producers.
The pioneers of biofuels would probably be surprised by how little they contribute to the total world fuel supply today. Rudolf Diesel’s first engine, designed in the late 1800s, ran on fuel derived from peanut oil. Henry Ford once scouted Florida in hopes of buying tracts of land to plant sugar cane, convinced that the United States would not tolerate the pollution from burning fossil fuels or the dependency implicit in importing oil to produce gasoline.
Only in recent decades have biofuels regained their original appeal, owing to efforts to secure affordable energy, generate income, and mitigate the dependency of which Ford warned. More recently, concerns about pollution, climate change, and the finite nature of fossil fuels has driven a spike in demand – one that must now be managed.
Flexibility is key to efforts to leverage the world’s growing reliance on biofuels to boost agricultural productivity, accelerate rural development, and increase food security. For example, policymakers must defuse the competitive pressures between food and fuel by designing schemes to counter price volatility for basic foodstuffs. Authorities could require that the percentage of biofuels blended with conventional fuel be increased when food prices drop and cut when they rise. This would serve as a sort of automatic stabilizer. Poor farmers would continue to enjoy robust demand for their products even when food prices dropped, and consumers would be protected from rapid or excessive price increases.
National targets could also be made more flexible. If mandates for biofuel use were applied over several years, instead of only one, policymakers could influence demand in order to minimize pressure on food prices.
Finally, at the individual level, greater flexibility could also be built in at the pump, through the promotion of flex-fuel vehicles of the type already in use in Brazil. If cars are equipped with engines that can run on conventional fossil fuels or blends with high percentages of biofuels, consumers can adapt to changes in prices by switching between one or the other.
Finding the right balance will not be easy. READ MORE Acesss FAO report
Study: Even with High LDV Electrification, Low-Carbon Biofuels Will Be Necessary to Meet 80% GHG Reduction Target; “Daunting” Policy Implications
(Green Car Congress) A study by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Michigan State University colleague has concluded that even with a relatively high rate of electrification of the US light-duty fleet (40% of vehicle miles traveled and 26% by fuel), an 80% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 relative to 1990 can only be achieved with significant quantities of low-carbon liquid fuel. The paper is published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology.
For the study, the researchers benchmarked 27 scenarios against a 50% petroleum-reduction target and an 80% GHG-reduction target. They found that with high rates of electrification (40% of miles traveled) the petroleum-reduction benchmark could be satisfied, even with high travel demand growth. The same highly electrified scenarios, however, could not satisfy 80% GHG-reduction targets, even assuming 80% decarbonized electricity and no growth in travel demand.
The study estimated national fuel and emissions impacts from increasing reliance on electrified light-duty transportation, and the resulting implications for advanced biofuels. For the study, the team reconstructed the vehicle technology portfolios from two national vehicle studies (the 2007 Environmental Assessment of Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles by the Electric Power Research Institute and Natural Resources Defense Council; and the 2009 Multi-Path Transportation Futures study by Argonne National Laboratory).
These two studies disagree greatly in regard to petroleum and GHG impacts, stemming from very different rates of vehicle electrification and travel demand growth that each study assumed. Neither offered significant sensitivity analysis, making it difficult to extend their conclusions to alternative scenarios.
The Wisconsin and Michigan team normalized the highly detailed vehicle assumptions and transport calculations from these studies around the rates of electrified vehicle penetration; travel demand growth; and electricity decarbonization. They also examined the impact of substituting low-carbon advanced cellulosic biofuels in place of petroleum.
The two studies—EPRI-NRDC and ANL—serve as “excellent bookends” for comparing minimal and maximal electrification of passenger transportation, the researchers concluded. They based their low electrification scenario (0.3% electric powered miles) on the ANL Study’s “PHEV and Ethanol” scenario, and the high electrification scenario (40% electric-powered miles) on the EPRI- NRDC Study’s High scenario with 95% electrified vehicles. The researchers also considered intermediate (20% electric-powered miles) electrification—halfway between the high and low.
They examined each of these three vehicle mixtures under low-, medium-, and high-growth assumptions for travel demand. These 9 combinations became the reference scenarios with defined fuel requirements and GHG emissions. These same vehicle combinations and growth rates are used to examine nine petroleum-targeted scenarios and nine GHG-targeted scenarios.
The team also assumed that electricity is largely “decarbonized”, reducing GHG intensity by 80%.
No scenarios achieved the 80% GHG reduction without contributions from RFS-compliant advanced cellulosic biofuel. Only three scenarios actually met the GHG target of 294 MT. The remaining six scenarios exceeded the target even while replacing all petroleum with low GHG cellulosic biofuel (at 60% lower GHG intensity). READ MORE Abstract ( Environmental Science & Technology)
Excerpt from the study:
… The implications of this research are daunting with regard to climate policy. Successfully decarbonizing light duty transportation requires simultaneous “successes” around several key challenges. First, growth in light duty vehicle travel would need to be moderate at most, but preferably low. Historic growth can be maintained and achieve an 80% GHG reduction only if nearly all petroleum is replaced with alternative low-carbon fuels. Second, an extremely high rate of electrified vehicle technology adoption would need to be achieved, such that nearly all light duty vehicles would need to be hybrid or electrified by 2050 and coupled to ongoing improvements in vehicle efficiency. Third, U.S. electricity supply cannot resemble the current fuel mix, but would have to be massively decarbonized; displacing the vast majority of fossil-fuel derived electricity with nuclear and renewable resources. Changes of this magnitude to transportation demand, vehicle fleet, and electricity are necessary, but still insufficient to meet an 80% GHG reduction, without additional low-carbon gasoline replacement such as that provided by cellulosic biofuels.
Over the course of 35 years, the fuel-mix powering light duty transportation could be radically different than today’s, requiring only a small fraction (0−13%) of current petroleum consumption. Simultaneously achieving the petroleum and GHG reduction targets would require a monumental effort to commercialize cellulosic biofuels, as well as impressive achievements spanning transportation planning, vehicle manufacturing, electric power supply, and public policy. Still, it is technically achievable. Our assumed vehicle efficiencies were based on average (not high) rates of technology improvement. Renewable and nuclear electricity supply technologies are available today. Though continued research and development is needed, the necessary biofuel contributions are within the range of recent estimates of achievable potential. READ MORE
Uggah: B10 Biodiesel Programme Will Utilise Crude Palm Oil from Stockpile if Implemented
(Bernama/The Malay Mail Online) Some 1.22 million tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) from the country’s stockpile will be utilised annually upon the implementation of the B10 biodiesel programme, said Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.
The B10 is 10 per cent palm biodiesel blended with 90 per cent petroleum diesel and is a migration from the current B7 blend.
“The government is still awaiting the report from the Malaysian Automative Association (MAA) which has opposed its usage citing incompatibility and warranty issues,” he said.
He said while MAA had reservations about its usage, the Mercedes-Benz Malaysia (MBM) group had announced two days ago that B10 biodiesel was compatible with its diesel car engine. READ MORE