Biofuels remain a contentious energy source

Posted on 16 October 2013

Controversy remains over the future of biofuel in the global energy mix.

During a panel session at the Daegu 2013 Congress on 16 October, experts could not agree on the environmental sustainability and long-term economic viability of the biofuel industry.

The Leader of the WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, Samantha Smith, stated that “We should be using biofuels where we don’t have good technology alternatives.” Using the example of the US transport sector, she illustrated how during the entire biofuel production cycle, corn ethanol made little difference to carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels. But that there is “plenty of research showing that the rise of corn-based ethanol production in the US caused a rise in prices on food markets, particular in Latin America where corn is a staple part of the diet.” On the other hand, using existing technology, vehicle electrification “would make much larger differences,” she said.

However, Abubakar Sambo, WEC’s Vice Chair of Africa and Director General & CEO of the Nigerian Energy Commission, insisted that following the example of countries like Brazil and Malaysia, many African countries could effectively produce and utilize biofuels. “Virtually all African countries have existing biofuel projects or projects on the table,” he explained. “These countries often cannot afford to import expensive fossil fuels, and are looking for renewable, biofuels included, fuel sources.”

Smith cautioned that other problems exist. “There is growing evidence that a commercial focus on bioenergy has resulted in land grabs.” She proposed, “It would be good if we could refocus the biofuel debate on how to bring energy to poor rural communities.”

Alessandro Clerici, Executive Chair of the World Energy Resources at WEC, added, “Biofuels in remote areas, especially in tropical areas, could be something to eradicate the lack of electricity in some places.”


This news story is based on the session Bottom Line, “Biofuel: Beyond fuel in the tank”, at the 2013 World Energy Congress.