Biofuels Vital Graphics

Make it happen

Biofuels Vital Graphics demonstrates the potential of biofuels to deliver a range of energy and development objectives as a cornerstone of  the global green economy. But it will only be possible to secure their place in the green economy if a number of safeguards are implemented at both national- policy and local-project levels, to avoid creating any additional environmental or social problems.

Biofuels are not created equal, and the sustainability of the bioenergy sector depends on complex and interrelated choices which are often region and even site-specific. Awareness of potential problems and innovative solutions creating multiple co- benefits are key to informed decision making.

Effective policies are critical to developing a sustainable biofuels sector, providing for sound investments and the most suitable technology. Technological development must strive for optimal resource use and allocation, whilst minimising waste and inefficiencies, ultimately leading to
economic efficiency. Policies need to be science- based and cross-sectoral, reflecting a long-term, life-cycle approach along the entire supply chain.

Box 4.1 Fuelling Uganda’s green economy

Recently Uganda has outlined its national strategy for bioenergy to contribute to increasing the renewable- energy mix from 4 to 16 percent by 2017. Alongside the energy challenge, the country faces a number of other difficult tasks including loss of ecosystems and systemic low rural employment. Ugandan officials have pointed out that in addition to serving as a new source of renewable energy, growing crops for bioenergy can help tackle unemployment and bring more cash to often impoverished rural communities. At the same time, biofuel production could reduce the country’s dependence on imported fossil fuels, and help tackle serious energy shortages. These benefits, of course, can only be harnessed if safeguards are implemented, for example to protect forests as the country has already lost 65 percent of its forests over the past 40 years.

Several biofuel crops have been identified, including sugarcane, maize, oil palm and jatropha. A suitability assessment of these crops illustrates that the potential output from certain biofuel feedstocks is high. Several projects are underway to help the country meet their target.

To reduce the potential loss of biodiversity and related ecosystem services which this new development may entail, measures are needed to designate areas where the crops can be grown safely. Mapping of areas of high biodiversity and High Value Conservation Areas (HVCAs) should go hand-in-hand with surveys of crop/land suitability before contracts are awarded for bioenergy projects..

Such agro-environmental mapping is key to ensuring that bioenergy delivers on its green economy potential.

Africa Reporting Project (2010) Biofuels take root in Uganda as experts warn of severe hunger hunger/ New Scientist (2007) Biofuel plantations fuel strife in Uganda dn11671-biofuel-plantations-fuel-strife-in-uganda.html The Guardian (2009) Oil find sparks new hope for Uganda’s people

Figure 4.1  - Pressures on Ugandan forests

Figure 4.2 - Potential biofuel output Uganda

Figure 4.3 - Suitability by crop type in Uganda

The research community, business leaders and government representatives have all pointed to a number of measures, which can reduce potential pressures and impacts while maximising benefits. These include steps to increase resource productivity and efficiency, to foster sustainable land approaches, implement strategies to reduce carbon emission, and target energy access to achieve development goals. In considering the economic efficiency of the overall energy mix, qualifiers such as less water input, improved local access, and the effects and impacts compared with alternative energy sources should be examined; and when appropriate, safeguards should be applied. Choosing the appropriate means to provide bioenergy, and energy as a whole, is often about trade-offs.

Increase resource productivity and efficiency

Improving the efficiency of feedstock production, conversion and use helps increase resource productivity and thereby reduce pressure on land, water and other resources. Increasing yields and optimising agricultural production can augment output on existing cropland without encroaching on natural land. This is particularly relevant in developing countries where there is significant potential to increase crop and land productivity. There is also scope for harnessing investments in biofuels development to modernise the agricultural sector and help build capacity, which can promote overall agriculture production for food, materials and fuel.

Different biofuels pathways have different efficiencies in the growth of feedstocks, conversion processes and end-uses. This chain of efficiency pertaining to input and output needs to be considered in national planning processes to identify the most suitable biofuel feedstocks for a given country, region and local context. For example, the energy potential of landfill material is released through combustion, whereas bioethanol, (both from crops such as corn and wheat, and from cellulose such as grass and wood) is obtained through conversion.

The development of biorefineries can greatly support efforts to increase resource efficiency. Biorefineries integrate biomass conversion processes and equipment to produce fuel, power, and chemicals from biomass. By producing multiple products, a biorefinery can take advantage of the differences in biomass components and intermediate products, thus maximising the value of a biomass feedstock (Figure 4.5).

Increasing the productivity of biorefineries is a vital part of the bioenergy supply chain. Interconnected closed biorefinery systems can capture waste products and integrate them back into the biorefinery process. Such measures to increase efficiency contribute to reducing GHG emissions from decomposing biorefinery waste, and to creating other value-added products.

Decreasing the overall use of water in biorefineries is also essential. Incorporating grey water systems, which re-circulate used water can reduce the water footprint of some feedstocks.

Figure 4.4 - Energy potential from one tonne input: organic matter and landfill material

Figure 4.5 - Biorefnery, general concept

Box 4.2 Bioenergy-effi ciency

The use of sisal, a plant native to East Africa, is a good example of how the bioenergy-efficiency concept can be put into practice. Traditionally sisal is used to make fibre and twine, with 2-4 percent of the total plant being used and the rest discarded to decompose. But sisal waste is now being used as a value-added product to generate biogas in various areas of East Africa. Using the whole sisal plant now doubles carbon emission savings by eliminating decomposition of sisal waste.

Sources: UNIDO Available at:

More efficient use of biomass is also needed, including the optimal the use of waste and residues. Specifically, energy recovery from municipal organic waste and residues from agriculture and forestry hold significant, yet largely untapped energy potential. With little or no environmental impact, recovery of these materials yields many co-benefits, including a cut in carbon emissions otherwise released through traditional disposal or combustion.

However, not everything that looks like waste is unused. Assessments of potential competing waste uses, such as soil fertiliser, as well as longer-term availability of the waste stream should be made prior to developing a biofuel plantBioenergy offers many ways to combine uses, for example by using biomass first to produce material and then recovering the energy content of the resulting waste (cascading use). The forestry sector has been maximising the use of wood products by creating value with its residue waste stream – providing biomaterials for both fibre and fuel. Often these residues can be pelletised and burnt in cogeneration plants to supply heat and power.

Finally, consideration should be given to the most efficient end-use of biomass. For example, stationary use of biomass to generate heat and/or electricity is typically more energy-efficient than converting biomass to a liquid fuel. Of course, economic efficiency may lead to a different conclusion, and future trends with fossil fuels becoming more difficult to extract may change the equation of environmental benefits.

Box 4.3 Oil palm production in Indonesia

The challenge of preventing encroachment on sensitive areas has become apparent with the expansion of oil palm production in Asia. For instance Indonesian oil palm developments, to date largely for food production, have led to high levels of deforestation. However, growing oil palms in areas such as the Imperata Grasslands, rather than on wooded and peat land, is part of a more sustainable biofuels development strategy. This grassland covers an estimated 8 million hectares; a sizeable area considering the total area for oil- palm plantations is about 10 million hectares. Using this land could ensure more sustainable oil-palm biodiesel production by limiting indirect land-use impacts and preserve biodiverse forests.

Source: Dehue, B., Meyer S. and van de Staaij, J. (2010): Responsible Cultivation Areas. Identification and certification of feedstock production with a low risk of indirect effects. Ecofys Available at:

Foster sustainable land use
Land-use planning is one strategy to manage competition for land and, at the same time, reduce environmental and social impacts. Assessment of land suitability and availability can identify both high-risk areas where land conversion should be avoided, and areas where bioenergy production is appropriate. Such assessments need to consider a range of variables including:

• Temperatures and water balance, topography and soil types;

• Climate-change projections and adaptation needs;• Screening for environmentally sensitive areas;

• Impact on ecosystem services;

• Current land cover and use, including land used for housing, agriculture and cultural/medicinal areas; and

• Conflict zones, archaeological sites, land tenure, and infrastructure issues.
These assessments produce the best results when using a combined top-down (GIS /spatial data) and bottom-up approach (ground-truthing, stakeholder involvement).

Figure 4.6 - Potential biofuels production on abandoned agriculture land

Restoring formerly degraded land and using under- used and/or abandoned land can boost output without increasing pressure to convert land. Careful assessment is needed as such land may harbour high levels of biodiversity, cultural values, or have been deliberately set aside.

Maximise greenhouse gas reductions

Many countries have already shown that bioenergy can be part of a comprehensive national emissions reduction strategy, and integrated as part of national planning in processes such as National Appropriate Mitigation Strategies (NAMAs). Such planning processes help identify the most efficient combination of approaches to reduce GHG emissions.

As discussed above, the various biofuels pathways all entail different GHG impacts, with land use being a critical aspect. For example, growing oil palms on degraded land results in a better life-cycle carbon balance than converting peatland into oil-palm monocultures.

Improving efficiency all the way through the biofuels life cycle can reduce total emissions. For example, sustainable agricultural practices rather than current practices, can cut emissions, with even bigger gains when crop and energy systems are integrated. In Brazil integrating food-energy systems and recovering sugarcane bagasse for energy has maximised the GHG benefits of bioenergy.

Figure 4.7 - Small-scale bioenergy applications: impacts on livelihood

Contribute to energy access and encourage social and economic development
Energy access is a primer for any type economic development. Nowhere is energy access a greater challenge than in areas and regions where the population lives in poverty. As illustrated in this publication, bioenergy can deliver considerable positive social impacts to these communities.

Small-scale bioenergy applications, such as generators fuelled by biofuels, can power many technologies which increase productivity and output, including water pumps to irrigate crops. Alternative fuel stoves are another technology which can be integrated easily to decrease the use of wood fuels for cooking, and replace low-quality energy sources with modern biofuels such as ethanol.

Box 4.4 Cambodia harnesses bioenergy in small applications with a big impact

In Bot Trand village, Cambodia, most families are involved in subsistence farming, owning less than one hectare of land. With per capita incomes averaging about US$2 a day many families, if faced with a bad agricultural year, have a hard time affording basic necessities including food. Recognising the pressure that the high cost of diesel imposes on these families, a jatropha project was started to generate employment and offset the high cost of fuel. Jatropha has been grown for many years in Cambodia.

Over the past few years a small energy revolution has taken place in the village of Bot Trang in northwest Cambodia. Bot Trang is not on Cambodia’s national  grid: in the old days Mr. Tham Bun Hak, a local farmer, would supply 80 households in the village with electricity from his diesel fired generator – but now it’s all run on jatropha. With the assistance of local NGOs and public partnerships, Mr. Tham developed a jatropha project that has made jatropha oil two- third less expensive than diesel. Now more affordable electricity can be delivered to the village and because of that, every family has been able to save money.

Besides electricity generation, Jatropha has brought other benefits. Villagers earn extra income by growing jatropha and that extra income can help fuel further entrepreneurship and business. For example, families such as the Tham family now have additional capital to make their business more efficient. The capital has given them the opportunity to replace old sewing machines with more efficient electric ones, and they are able to increase productivity.

Other villages in Cambodia are now following Bot Trang’s example and using jatropha fuelled power. This case study illustrates that bioenergy can foster economic development and help to grow even small, local Green Economies.

Sources: Energia (2009) Biofuels for Sustainable Development and the Empowerment of Women. Case Studies from Africa and Asia, University of Amsterdam (2006) Size Does Matter: The possibilities of cultivating jatropha curcas for biofuel in Cambodia

Figure 4.8 - Energy costs in Bot Trang village, Cambodia