Second generation biofuels: Real solution for food vs. fuels dilemma?
On the 22nd of February the European Commission proposed the revision of the regulation on biofuels including imposing a cap of 5% of first-generation biofuels to reach the target of 10% renewable energy in transport by 2020.
The transport sector in particular relies almost entirely on oil which is predicted to become increasingly scarce and costly. Biofuels as derived from biomass appears as a solution because we produce fuel from plant materials or waste. In the other side the food vs. Fuels dilemma and deforestation for biofuels production are the main problems of biofuels.
For that reason France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Denmark have supported the project of ceiling of 5% for bioethanol and biodiesel. It seems that the unique solution for sustainable biofuels is those of second generation.
The second-generation biofuels are they really available?
Second generation biofuel technologies have been developping because they do not compete with food for feedstock.The goal of second generation biofuel processes is to extend the amount of biofuel that can be produced by using biomass consisting of the residual non-food parts of current crops, such as stems, leaves and husks as well as other crops that are not used for food purposes such as switchgrass, jatropha, miscanthus and cereals that bear little grain, and also industry waste such as woodchips pulp from fruit pressing.They emit much less greenhouse gaz than typical first generation biofuels because the growing of this feedstock has low inputs, and they use biomass waste streams to produce heat.
However, second generation processes are still at the pilot plant stage.
Even if the European Commission considers that biofuels from waste and agricultural residues have a limited impact on the climate and no effect on food prices, they do not replace food crops. They are complex and not yet commercially available, mainly because of high production costs.
In the long term they were also more durable and should be supported.