Global biofuel output lags in race to achieve net zero emissions targets

Source:  S&P Global Platts

Biofuel production globally is not progressing fast enough for the global energy sector to reach net zero emissions of carbon dioxide by 2050, the International Energy Agency said Sept. 26 in its updated Net Zero Roadmap, with availability of feedstocks, and food, fertilizer prices posing big challenges.

Biofuel output has increased on average by 4% per year over the last five years, but it needs to increase by an average of 13% per year to reach an 11 Exajoules (EJ) target by 2030, the Paris-based inter-governmental agency said.

Biomass-based diesel, for instance, has expanded at an average of 9% worldwide for the past five years. Existing and announced projects would cover half of the increase in demand, assuming they all go ahead, IEA said.

IEA first released the report titled Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector in 2021, and looks at various pathways to reduce emissions produced in electricity generation, transport, industry and other sectors.

In its latest update, the agency has raised its estimates for global emissions to 2030 to reflect “the extremely strong rebound in economic activity and emissions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the failure to act in recent years at the speed envisaged in our original report.”

Modern liquid biofuel demand, including gasoline, diesel, marine and aviation fuels may increase by 200% before peaking around 2040, IEA said.

After that, IEA expects a continued phase-out of internal combustion engine cars would reduce biofuel demand for road transport and maritime and aviation uses will see more biofuel use.

IEA Milestones for Biofuels 2022 2030 2035 2050
Biofuels share in road transport 5% 11% 12% 3%
Biofuels share in shipping 0% 8% 13% 19%
Biofuels share in aviation 0% 10% 22% 33%
Carbon capture from biofuels production(in MtCO2) 1 114 213 474

Finding feedstocks

As per the IEA report, availability and utilization of sustainable feedstocks remains a key obstacle in scaling up global biofuels production.

“The total potential resource base of all kinds of sustainable bioenergy is estimated at around 100 EJ, of which only 10 EJ is currently used to make biofuels,” IEA said.

As per the report, advanced feedstocks such as tallow, used cooking oil, food wastes and crop residues currently accounted for only 12% of biofuel production. In 2030, almost 40% of biofuel production is expected to come from advanced feedstocks which are not in conflict with food and feed production.

This also includes crops grown on marginal wasteland, agricultural and forestry residues and residue oils, fats and grease. The usage of this is also projected to increase by 2050 to 75% of total biofuel production, according to the IEA.

An estimated 20 mt of residue oils, fats and grease are generated annually which can be used in biofuel production, the report said.

However, several challenges such as productivity, collection, technological advancement, emission, and sustainability amongst others remain key hindrances for both government and industry in scaling up feedstock availability in a bid to boost biofuel output.

Feedstock crops grown on marginal and waste land hold potential to expand supply of feedstock enough to achieve the increases in supply projected in the NZE Scenario, IEA noted, adding that technological advancement is required to scale up biofuel production.

As agricultural commodity markets are facing unprecedented volatility, feedstock is the biggest operating cost factor for biorefineries, S&P Global Commodity Insights said in a report Sept. 5


Got additional questions?
We will be happy to assist!