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The changing face of the planet: The role of bioenergy, biofuels and bio based products in global land use change


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Are you responsible for business development, corporate social responsibility or developing policy? …

Are you responsible for business development, corporate social responsibility or developing policy?

This essential briefing takes a closer look at the complex land use issues surrounding the emerging bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based product sectors.

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  • 1. NNFCC The Bioeconomy Consultants The changing face of the planet:The role of bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based products in global land use change May 2012
  • 2. D o we have enough land to feed the planet and produce the low carbon energy, fuels and materials needed by apopulation expected to reach 9 billion by 2050?As the world’s population increases But biomass has one crucial propertyand greater pressure is put on global that makes it unique; it is renewable andresources we need to think carefully takes just a few years to make instead ofabout how we manage the ground thousands or even millions of years.beneath our feet and what changes to It also has a key advantage over otherland use will mean to environmentally low carbon technologies. Biomass fixesresponsible businesses. carbon into something tangible whichDespite adopting more efficient can be stored and moved, and will bepractices, our appetite for energy, fuels available even when the sun isn’t shiningand materials continues to grow and or the wind isn’t too does the cost of fossil fuel. The As a source of energy we can use it tochallenge we now face is to find a cost- meet peak demand in national electricityeffective, sustainable solution to this grids. It is also our only low carbonproblem but is large-scale biomass alternative to natural gas and liquidcultivation the answer? NNFCC takes a transport fuels. And as a source ofcloser look at the issues. chemicals it provides a viable alternativeWhy biomass? to many oil-based plastics.Plants convert solar radiation intobiomass, which can be used to make Growing demand for biomass Responsibility for developing low carbonfood, feed, fuel, energy and materials. sources of energy, like biofuels andBiomass shares many properties with bioenergy, often falls on government. Butfossil fuels, after all coal and oil is simply the drivers vary between countries andbiomass which has undergone a physical this is having a major role in shaping theand chemical change under extreme developing market.pressure and temperature.
  • 3. Around 85% of the energy, fuels & materials we use come from irreplacable fossil fuels.In Europe, energy policy is largely Similarly in Brazil, the establishedgeared towards reducing the carbon infrastructure and suitable climate makeemissions associated with energy and conditions ideal for growing sugar canefuel production. and they export over a billion dollars worth of bioethanol each year1 toMore environmentally friendly fuel and international fuel and chemical markets are being stimulatedto meet future targets set out by the In fact, Brazilian bioethanol exportsRenewable Energy Directive and new are second only in the world to the US1,sustainability criteria will ensure where long-term energy security is nowbiomass is sourced responsibly. as much of a political priority as short- term economic growth.In comparison, economic developmentplays a far more important role in According to the BP Statistical Review2,countries like Canada and in the Baltics, 753 billion barrels or close to 55 perwhere their large wood resources are cent of the world’s oil can be found inexported for use in the paper, timber and the Middle East. The US in comparisonwoodfuel sectors. contains around 2 per cent of the world’s
  • 4. Bioplastics currently account for a little over 1% of the world plastics market.oil reserves but currently uses more Studies3 have shown that nearly 50 perthan 21 per cent of it. This also means cent of consumers say environmentalthat with current trends, US oil reserves issues affect their purchasing decisions.will be depleted in the next 10 years2, Consequently brands are looking toputting even greater pressure on oil demonstrate sustainability and showimports. corporate social responsibility byThis has driven the US to invest investing in bio-based products likemillions into developing the market bioplastics, compostable packaging andfor domestically grown biofuels and renewable building materials to givemandating their use through the them an advantage in the marketplace.Renewable Fuel Standard. Brands are also aware of the role thatIn comparison to energy and fuel campaigners can have on consumermarkets, the role of the consumer in the choices, as demonstrated by thebio-based products market is far more Greenpeace campaign against Nestlé’sprominent. This is partly because the use of unsustainable palm oil whichmarket is considerably smaller but also prompted Nestlé to change theirbecause there is more direct contact procurement policy.between product and consumer.Consumers are increasingly familiar Competition for land On paper we have more than enoughwith terms like ‘low carbon’, ‘sustainable’ room to satisfy our appetite for food,and ‘eco-friendly’, and this is having an feed, bioenergy, biofuels and bioplasticsimpact on what they buy. for decades to come.
  • 5. According to the FAO and OECD4 wecould more than double the amount Looking to the future Being prepared for the future allowsof land currently in crop production businesses to develop the correctaround the globe, from 1400 million to business development strategy thatover 3300 million hectares. will give them the edge over theirHowever, not all of this land can competitors.sustainably be brought into cultivation. Predicting how land use will change overPopulation growth, protection of food the forthcoming years is hugely complexsecurity and changing diets will increase but vitally important to anyone investingcompetition for land dramatically. in the biomass supply chain.We also need to protect our ecosystem Land requirements for biomass willservices, forests and areas of high depend on how future markets andbiodiversity against exploitation. technologies develop, and also howProjections4 suggest this will leave quickly we can continue along the pathbetween 250 and 800 million hectares of towards a circular economy whereland available for other uses. ‘waste’ becomes the raw material for other processes.But precisely how much of this landwill be needed to satisfy the growing We are starting to see significantdemands for bioenergy, biofuels progress in this area and those who areand bioplastics remains a source of not aware of the developing market areuncertainty. at risk of being left behind. Carbon recycling: an integrated approach.
  • 6. 13% of the coarse grain, 15% of the vegetable oil & 30% of the sugar cane grown globally in 2020 could be used to make biofuels4.Although bioenergy and biofuels will This falls within the range of land areaincreasingly utilise non-food feedstocks potentially available for non-food meet sustainability demands, crops But even converting this “available”grown for energy and fuel production land remains a challenge, as much of itcould use some 117 million hectares of is on continents like Africa and Southagriclutural land by 2030, if we assume America, often far from agriculturalsome “extended” land use5. infrastructure and significant investment would be needed to realistically makeIn addition, if the bioplastics industry this land available for cultivating crops.continues to grow at its current rate,they could replace up to 10 per cent of This can lead to land grabbing andall plastics by 2030. This could require population displacement; two majoran additional 14 million hectares of land. issues that are stifling progress. In addition, when we look further into theCombining the estimated size of the future, land is likely to become furtherbioenergy, biofuels and bioplastics constrained as the finite amount of landmarkets by 2030 suggests we would we have available is put under increasedrequire more than 130 million hectares pressure from the growing globalof land. economy. Land use from different bio-based markets in 2030 (ranges given in brackets). Market Percentage of total Land required, Bioenergy & Biofuels5 3 (1 to 9) 117 (50 to 300) market in 2030 millions of hectares Bioplastics 10 (5 to 20) 14 (4 to 55) Total - 129 (54 to 355)
  • 7. And should bioenergy and biofuelsrepresent 6 per cent of the total global Land use from different bio-based marketsenergy market by 2050; the land needed in 2050 (ranges given in brackets).for crops could rise to 400 million Market Percentage of Land required,hectares, if we assume some “extended” total market millions ofland use5. Bioenergy 6 (1 to 18) 400 (100 to 700) in 2050 hectares & Biofuels5The use of biomass for plastics Bioplastics 20 (10 to 40) 34 (10 to 200)production will also continue to Total - 434 (110 to 900)increase. By 2050 bioplastics couldaccount for up to 20 per cent of all As competition for resources increasesplastics or around 142 million tonnes this could potentially drive up feedstockper year. This would require 34 million costs and put greater pressure onhectares of land. sustainability; directly and indirectly impacting on biodiversity, water andThis means that all together we may fertiliser use across the globe.need over 430 million hectares to meetour requirements for bioenergy, biofuels For example, some parts of America,and bioplastics in 2050, which could Western Europe and Southern Asia mayseriously test the limits of the amount of become almost entirely dependent onland sustainably available for growing imports of nutrients.non-food crops. Waste biomass is set to become an increasingly important resource.
  • 8. 1200 Bioenergy and Biofuels 1000 Bioplastics Upper maximum amount of sustainable land Land required, millions of hectares 800 600 400 Lower maximum amount of sustainable land 200 0 Low Medium High Low Medium High 2030 2050Predicted biomass demand scenarios versus land availability in 2030 and 2050.
  • 9. Energy markets could also benefit from adopting more efficient practices. InWhat is the solution?Future land use is difficult to predict but the UK, co-firing of coal and wood iswhat is certain is that competition for an efficient way to make electricityland will increase. but this may not be the best use of ourWe can minimise competition for land resources7, increasing it’s productivity. Improved Technological advances in fermentation,breeding and management techniques gasification and pyrolysis, have madewill increase the productivity of crops, it possible to convert biomass intoparticularly non-food crops, like willow electricity, heat, fuels and chemicalsand Miscanthus, which have been at high conversion efficiencies. Thislargely uncultivated6. An annual yield approach also allows us to make betterincrease of just 2 per cent would double use of non-food feedstocks such asproduction volumes by 2050 without wood, algae, household rubbish andany land expansion. agricultural residues.We can also use these feedstocks High volumes of agricultural residuesbetter. For example, we can produce 3.1 are generated in South America and Asia,tonnes of polyethylene from a hectare and are likely to increase in the mediumof brazilian sugar cane but the same term in line with food production. Byhectare of brazilian sugar cane can make utilising these resources we can reduce7.9 tonnes of polylactic acid. Both are demands on land while still returningused in the production of bioplastics that some of the nutrients back to the soil.offer similar functionality. Global supply constraints and opportunities in 2050.
  • 10. Another promising option for reducing particualry those with limited renewableland use requirements is to build alternatives.intergrated biorefineries. By buildingrefineries that produce food, feed,energy, fuel, chemicals and nutrients Conclusion: Be prepared Businesses are increasingly being judgedtogether; we can minimise waste and on their ability to manage supply chainsproduce a wide range of chemicals and sustainably.fuels tailored to specific purposes. As the transition to a low carbonIn many cases there are also alternative economy gathers speed, businessessources of renewable energy and fuels need to be proactive rather than reactivethat can replace fossil fuels, but biomass to the changing marketplace, as theis our only low carbon source of plastic, decisions they make now will determineaviation and marine fuel. This is where their success in the future.our efforts should be focussed. To ensure we minimise the impactIn the mean time these developing of bioenergy, biofuels and bio-basedmarkets will benefit from the growth of products on land use and foodmore mature sectors like road transport production we must:biofuels and bioenergy, including • Use our existing resources better bylogistical and technology developments driving innovationsuch as the ability to process • Use more non-food feedstocks likelignocellulosic feedstocks like wood. wastes, agricultural residues, algaeBut we urgently need more stable and and lignocellulosic cropsharmonised policies, backed up by • Push policies towards sectors withbold decision making to support the limited alternativesdevelopment of low carbon technologies, General guiding principles for the future use of biomass, larger words have greater priority for biomass use.
  • 11. Image courtesy of Drax.Background Information1. USDA (2011) ‘Brazil’s EthanolIndustry: Looking Forward’ BP (2011) ‘Statistical Review’ -BIO02/BIO02.pdf3. Tangible Branding (2011) ‘’ -4. FAO & OECD (2011) ‘Agriculturalwww.tangiblebranding.comOutlook 2011-2020’ -5. Committee on Climate Change (2011)‘Bioenergy Review’ - UKERC (2011) ‘Energy from biomass:uk/reports/bioenergy-reviewthe size of the global resource’ NNFCC (2009) ‘Review ofdownload_file.php?fileId=2098Technologies for Gasification ofBiomass and Wastes, NNFCC 09-008’- NNFCC (2010) ‘GHG Benefits frombiomass-and-wastes-nnfcc-09-008Use of Vegetable Oils for Electricity,Heat, Transport and IndustrialPurposes, NNFCC 10-016’
  • 12. NNFCC is a leading international consultancy with expertise on theconversion of biomass to bioenergy, biofuels and bio-based products.NNFCCBiocentreYork Science ParkInnovation WayYorkYO10 5DGUnited KingdomTelephone: +44 (0)1904 435182Email: