A report from the IEA (International Energy Agency) analyzes the impact and limitations of so-called “first generation biofuel feedstocks”, which are available on the market, and the promises and potential of “second generation energy crops”, which are still in development.
The authors differentiate between “good” and “less good” 1-generation biofuels. “Good” biofuels such as sugarcane ethanol have GHG emission avoidance potential; are produced sustainably; can be cost effective without government support mechanisms; provide useful and valuable co-products; and, if carefully managed with due regard given to sustainable land use, can support the drive for sustainable development in many developing countries. “Less good” biofuels such as vegetable oil-based biodiesel, are being criticised with regard to their relatively low GHG emissions avoidance; unsustainable production relating to deforestation, water use, and land management; competition for food crop feedstocks pushing up food commodity prices; and the need for generous government support schemes to remain competitive even after the technologies have become mature.
The report analyzes the technical challenges that must be hurdled in industrial biofuel production from second generation feedstocks, and the current policies to support their development. Despite political support for 2 generation biofuels, the report expects their successful commercialisation to take another decade or so. Even after 2020 or thereabouts, when 2nd-generation biofuels could become a much more significant player in a global biofuels market, the market will be characterised by a balance between 1st- and 2nd-generation technologies.
IEA-Report: From 1st- to 2nd-Generation BioFuel technologies – An overview of current industry and RD&D activities. November 2008. (PDF-Document, 2.7 MB)