Biofuels: A second chance

Sustainable Production of Second-Generation Biofuels: Potential and perspectives in major economies and developing countries
OECD Observer

As biofuel production grew fourfold from 2000 to 2008, criticism of the industry seemed to increase nearly as dramatically. Production of these transport fuels, which are based on food crops such as grains, sugar cane and vegetable oils, competes with food crops and drives up food prices, experts argue. Also, from land-clearance needed for cultivation, production and use, these biofuels may actually increase, rather than reduce, greenhouse gas emissions.

Now, people are turning their attention to so-called second-generation biofuels which, depending on the feedstock source and techniques used, could overcome these drawbacks. But caution is still required, according to Sustainable Production of Second-Generation Biofuels: Potential and perspectives in major economies and developing countries.

Most second-generation biofuels, still in the R&D stage in a few developed countries and some large emerging economies like Brazil, China and India, are produced from woody, lignocellulosic plants that can either be cultivated as dedicated energy crops or retrieved from agricultural and forestry residues. Using residues would have a particular advantage over first-generation biofuels in that there would be no immediate need to cultivate more land or compete with food crops.

According to the authors, the estimated $125-250 million cost of commercial second-generation biofuel plants could be financed by both foreign direct investment and domestic funding in most of the eight countries studied–Brazil, Cameroon, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, Tanzania and Thailand. Moreover, these countries tend to have the skilled engineers required for biofuel conversion.

But there are still a lot of unknowns, including the environmental impact of production, which depends on how the feedstock is converted to biofuel and site-specific conditions, such as climate, soil type and crop management. Land use must be carefully mapped and planned to avoid changes that could be detrimental to the environment or end up driving out food crops again. Also, the introduction of non-native energy crops could threaten local biodiversity. The book recommends intensive R&D over the next 10-15 years and more detailed research, including a global road map for technology development, an impact assessment of commercial secondgeneration biofuel production, and improved data on available land.

ISBN 978-92-64-08424-7

©OECD Observer No 278, March 2010




Economic data

GDP growth: +0.7% Q2 2017 year-on-year
Consumer price inflation: 2.3% Sept 2017 annual
Trade: +1.4% exp, +1.7% imp, Q2 2017
Unemployment: 5.7% Sept 2017
Last update: 14 Nov 2017

E-Newsletter

Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive paper editions delivered to you directly


Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Papers show “past coming back to haunt us”: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria tells Sky News that the so-called "Paradise Papers" show a past coming back to haunt us, but one which is now being dismantled. Please watch the video.
  • The annual OECD Eurasia Week takes place in Almaty, Kazakhstan 23-25 October. Writing in The Astana Times, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría urges Eurasia countries to stay the course on openness and international integration, which has brought prosperity but also disillusionment, notably regarding inequality. The OECD is working with this key region, and Mr Gurría urges Eurasia to focus on human capital and innovation to enhance productivity and people’s well-being. Read more.
  • When someone asks me to describe an ideal girl, in my head, she is a person who is physically and mentally independent, brave to speak her mind, treated with respect just like she treats others, and inspiring to herself and others. But I know that the reality is still so much different. By Alda, 18, on International Day of the Girl. Read more.
  • Globalisation’s many benefits have been unequally shared, and public policy has struggled to keep up with a rapidly-shifting world. The OECD is working alongside governments and international organisations to help improve and harness the gains while tackling the root causes of inequality, and ensuring a level playing field globally. Please watch.
  • Read some of the insightful remarks made at OECD Forum 2017, held on 6-7 June. OECD Forum kick-started events with a focus on inclusive growth, digitalisation, and trust, under the overall theme of Bridging Divides.
  • Checking out the job situation with the OECD scoreboard of labour market performances: do you want to know how your country compares with neighbours and competitors on income levels or employment?
  • Trade is an important point of focus in today’s international economy. This video presents facts and statistics from OECD’s most recent publications on this topic.
  • How do the largest community of British expats living in Spain feel about Brexit? Britons living in Orihuela Costa, Alicante give their views.
  • Brexit is taking up Europe's energy and focus, according to OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. Watch video.
  • OECD Chief Economist Catherine Mann and former Bank of England Governor Mervyn King discuss the economic merits of a US border adjustment tax and the outlook for US economic growth.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

Most Popular Articles

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2017