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Advancing Biofuels

What does the future hold for the production of biofuels and other alternative fuels?

June 14, 2006

What does the future hold for the production of biofuels and other alternative fuels?

Due to rising gas prices and environmental concerns, the production of biofuels is beginning to garner more and more attention around the world. We present the key findings about biofuel production and prospects as compiled for the “Biofuels for Transportation” project by the Worldwatch Institute and the German Agencies for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Renewable Resources (FNR).

Who are the leading producers of biofuel?

In 2005, Brazil produced 16.5 billion liters of ethanol fuel, 45.2% of the world’s total, with the United States in a close second at 16.2 billion liters — or 44.5% of the total. Ethanol provides roughly 40% of Brazil’s non-diesel fuel and 2-3% of U.S. non-diesel fuel.

How much of the global fuel supply does ethanol make up?

In 2005, ethanol comprised about 1.2% of the world’s gasoline supply by volume, but only about 0.8% by transport distance travelled due to its lower energy content.

Why is the increased production of biofuel more important today than ever before?

From 2002 to 2004, world oil demand increased by 5.3%. China’s consumption alone increased by 26.4% — while consumption in the United States rose by 4.9%. In addition, demand grew in Canada by 10.2% — and by 6.3% in the United Kingdom.

What products are used to produce ethanol fuel?

Sugar cane is the most important crop for producing biofuels today and the feedstock for more than 40% of all ethanol fuel. Corn — the primary source for biofuel production in the United States — ranks a close second, constituting nearly the same share of the world’s supply.

What about biodiesel?

Biodiesel, produced mainly from rapeseed or sunflower seed, comprises 80% of Europe’s total biofuel production. The EU accounted for nearly 89% of all biodiesel production worldwide in 2005. Germany produced 1.9 billion liters — or more than half the world total.

How much have recent advances in the biofuel industry affected porduction?

Global ethanol production more than doubled between 2000 and 2005, and the production of biodiesel — starting from a much smaller base — nearly quadrupled. In contrast, oil production increased by only 7% over this period.

How has the U.S. government stimulated the production of biofuels?

In the United States, high oil prices and agricultural lobbying prompted passage in 2005 of the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS), which will require the use of 28.4 billion liters (7.5 billion gallons) of biofuels for transportation purposes by 2012.

What else are they doing?

Under new guidelines implementing the Energy Policy Act of 1992, many government fleet vehicles that run on diesel fuel are now required to use B20, or 20% biodiesel blends. Many in the industry believe that these targets represent a floor — rather than a limit — to biofuel production.

How about elsewhere in North America?

In Canada, the government is aiming for 45% of the country’s gasoline consumption to be a 10% ethanol mix by 2010. Ontario will be the center of the ethanol program — where the government expects all fuel to be a 5% blend of ethanol by 2007.

And what is the response from the European Union?

A European Union directive, prompted by the desire for greater energy security as well as Kyoto Protocol requirements, has set the goal of meeting 5.75% of transportation fuel needs in all member states with biofuels by 2010.

Which EU members are leading the way?

Germany and France have announced plans to rapidly expand both ethanol and biodiesel production — with the aim of reaching the EU targets before the deadline.

And finally, how will ethanol alter Japanese fuel consumption patterns?

In Japan, the government has permitted low-level ethanol blends in preparation for a possible blending mandate — with the long-term intention of meeting 20% of the nation’s oil demand with biofuels or gas-to-liquid (GTL) fuels by 2030.

Editor’s note: All facts were adapted from “Biofuels for Transportation: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Agriculture and Energy in the 21st Century,” a report compiled by the Worldwatch Institute and the German Agencies of Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and Renewable Resources (FNR). For the full report, click here.

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