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


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

  • 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.
  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • 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.
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa.
  • 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 .

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