Even when oil is very cheap, biofuels have significant advantages and continue to expand their participation in the global energy mix. According to the International Energy Agency – IEA, ethanol and biodiesel currently account for 3% of the global energy consumption in the transport sector, and they may reach about 6% by 2040, as projected in the IEA’s New Policies Scenario. In fact, a growing number of countries are adopting mandates that successfully blend biofuels with gasoline and diesel. Innovative projects have already used biokerosene in several commercial flights.
This is particularly visible in Latin America and the Caribbean. Brazil has had successful experience with ethanol made from sugarcane since 1931 and with biodiesel since 2005, and there are existing programs in Colombia, Paraguay and Argentina. In recent years many countries have implemented programs to promote the regular use of biofuels, such as Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Jamaica and Guatemala. Meanwhile, others are advancing similar plans. All of these countries are looking not only to promote the use of renewable energy, but also to improve energy security, job creation, and the economy in rural areas.
On a global scale, the renewed interest in biofuels is also justified by the fact that they are low carbon options and mitigate climate change. Few energy alternatives are so effective in this regard, and ethanol from sugarcane is a champion: it reduces carbon emissions by more than 80% as compared to gasoline. Recognizing that, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – IPCC, after evaluating the range of energy technologies available, recommended the accelerated use of biofuels, noting that to limit a rise in average global temperature to 2oC, 11% of energy consumption for moving people and goods by 2030 should come from biofuels, i.e., doubling the current biofuels participation. The IEA’s 450 ppm scenario1, which also corresponds to energy solutions that limit the rise in the average global temperature to 2oC, calls for 16% of biofuels participation in the global energy consumption for transportation by 2040.
A recurring issue when expanding bioenergy relates to its impact on food production and prices. However, detailed and comprehensive studies have shown that there are productive, efficient, and sustainable rotations that reduce the impact on the food supply. As is known, food production depends on several factors, among which is the price paid to producers, the marketing conditions, and the agricultural technologies used. In the past five decades, the per capita food supply has grown significantly on all continents; if there is still hunger in the world, it is probably not due to a lack of food. Recent statistics on the evolution of the production of biodiesel and the price of vegetable oil used for manufacturing biodiesel, confirm the low correlation between the expansion of biofuels and the price of raw materials (see Figures 1 and 2). Similar analyses could be made regarding the increase in ethanol production and the fall in sugar prices or even the rate of deforestation, which fell in Brazil simultaneously with the growth of ethanol production (see Figure 3). In short, sustainable biofuels, when produced and used properly, are both necessary and feasible.
Figure 1 Vegetable Oil Price Index (2015)
Figure 2 Global Vegetable Oil Demand for Biodiesel
Figure 3 Ethanol production and deforestation in Brazil (INPE, 2015 and UNICA, 2016)