Renew On Line (UK) 64
|Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 164 Nov-Dec 2006
|Welcome Archives Bulletin|
14. World Renewables
Biofuels around the world
Biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel can significantly reduce global dependence on oil, according to a new report by the Worldwatch Institute, released in collaboration with the German Agencies for Technical Cooperation and Renewable Resources. It notes that last year, world biofuel production surpassed 670,000 barrels per day, the equivalent of about 1% of the global transport fuel market. Although oil still accounts for more than 96% of transport fuel use, biofuel production has doubled since 2001 and is poised for even stronger growth as the industry responds to higher fuel prices and supportive government policies. ‘Co-ordinated action to expand biofuel markets and advance new technologies could relieve pressure on oil prices while strengthening agricultural economies and reducing climate-altering emissions’, says Worldwatch.
The new report, Biofuels for Transportation: Global Potential and Implications for Sustainable Agriculture and Energy in the 21st Century, sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection, is a comprehensive assessment of the opportunities and risks associated with the large-scale international development of biofuels. It includes information from existing country studies on biofuel use in Brazil, China, Germany, India, and Tanzania.
Brazil is the world’s biofuel leader, with half of its sugar cane crop providing more than 40% of its non-diesel transport fuel. In the United States, where 15% of the corn crop provides about 2% of the non-diesel transport fuel, ethanol production is growing even more rapidly. This surging growth may allow the U.S. to overtake Brazil as the world’s biofuel leader this year. Both countries are now estimated to be producing ethanol at less than the current cost of gasoline. Figures cited in the report suggest that biofuels could provide 37% of U.S. transport fuel within the next 25 years, and up to 75% if automobile fuel economy doubles. It also claims that biofuels could replace 20–30% of the oil used in European Union countries during the same time frame.
However, it warns that the large-scale use of biofuels carries significant agricultural and ecological risks. ‘It is essential that government incentives be used to minimize competition between food and fuel crops and to discourage expansion onto ecologically valuable lands.’ But the report also finds that biofuels have the potential to increase energy security, create new economic opportunities in rural areas, and reduce local pollution and emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG): ‘in general, most currently produced biofuels have a solidly positive GHG balance’.
The last point has been a contentious one for some time, given the energy needed for harvesting, transporting and processing the bulky crop and the emissions that would be produced. Worldwatch accept that the GHG balance of biofuels ‘varies dramatically depending on such factors as feedstock choice, associated land use changes, feedstock production system, and the type of processing energy used’ but it says that ‘despite controversy about the energy balance of biofuels, there is an emerging consensus that all common biofuels contain more useful energy than is required to produce them. Corn ethanol has been particularly controversial, but its average energy balance now clearly exceeds one, thanks to improved energy efficiency in both agriculture and ethanol refining.’
It adds ‘In the future, the type of processing energy used will be more relevant: a biofuel plant that uses biomass energy will contribute far more to reducing GHG emissions than one that uses coal energy’.
It says that ‘the greatest GHG benefits will be achieved with
cellulosic inputs, such as dedicated energy crops and waste residues’
and claims that actually ‘energy crops have the potential to reduce
GHG emissions by more than 100% (relative to petroleum fuels) because
such crops can also sequester carbon in the soil as they grow. Estimated
GHG reductions for biofuel feedstock include: fibers (switchgrass, poplar)
70-110%; wastes (waste oil, harvest residues, sewage) 65-100%; sugars
(sugar cane, sugar beet) 40-90%; vegetable oils (rapeseed, sunflower
seed, soybeans) 45-75%; and starches (corn, wheat) 15-40%.’
US Renewables up
Net generation of electricity from non-hydro renewable energy facilities in the USA has increased by 11% over the last year, according to the US Dept. of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. Total national output in Feb. 2006 was 7,371,000 MWh, compared with 6,643,000 MWh in Feb. 2005. 503,000 MWh of the new output was from electric utilities & 4,446,000 MWh from independent power producers. The balance was 183,000 MWh from the commercial sector and 2,238,000 from industry.
The highest output was in California which, at 1,663,000 MWh, represents
almost one-quarter of the U.S. total. The increase in that state was
5.9% over last Feb, with 99,000 MWh from utilities, 1,463,000from IPPs,
33,000 from commercial and 68,000 MWh from the industrial sector. Total
net generation was 2.2% higher than Feb. 2005, with hydro generation
up 14.7%, coal up 1.4%, nuclear up 2.7%, natural gas up 2.5%.
However not everything is rosy. Growth in the U.S. geothermal power sector could be ‘devastated’ by proposals from the Federal Energy & Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which, according to the Geothermal Energy Association, would terminate the geothermal research programme of the Dept. of Energy, along with hydro, leaving only research funding for wind, solar and biomass. Fortunately however some of these cuts were later reversed by Senate- see Renew 165. Source: Refocus Weekly
China’s President says he wants to build energy efficient & environment friendly society: ‘China should speed up the adjustment of its irrational economic structure and completely abandon the ‘extensive way’ of economic growth. China should promote economic growth based on improvement of quality of the people, efficient use of resources, environmental pollution reduction and the importance attached to quality and economic returns for the building of an energy-efficient and environment friendly society.’ Hu Jintao, President of China, quoted in the People’s Daily Online, May 20.
They do seem to be trying. China is expected to increase its renewable output to 10% by 2020, according to the Energy Research Institute of the National Development & Reform Commission. And China has become the top investor in the world for renewable energy, according to the Worldwatch./ Excluding large hydro, China invested US$6 bn in renewables last year out of a total of $38 bn.
* The World Bank is supporting a ‘China Renewable Energy Scale-up’
programme designed to promote rapid expansion of the use of renewable
energy. The first phase of the CRESP programme is worth $40m.
G8 leaves it open
The G8 Summit in St Petersburg last year failed to agree common ground on nuclear energy and global warming. On Global Energy Strategy, all they could agree was that ‘Those of us committed to making the Kyoto protocol a success underline the importance we attach to it’. And on nuclear: ‘We recognise that G8 members pursue different ways to achieve energy security and the goals of climate protection. Those of us who have or are considering plans relating to the use and/or development of safe and secure nuclear energy believe that its development will contribute to global energy security, while simultaneously reducing harmful air pollution and addressing the climate change challenge.’ But it included a phrase reflecting German views: ‘We are committed to further reduce the risks associated with the safe use of nuclear energy’.
Putting a more optimistic spin on it, Tony Blair reported to the Commons that, on nuclear, ‘what was interesting was the statement by China that it intends to develop nuclear power, by India that it regarded it as indispensable and by many of the main oil producers including Kazakhstan that they would also balance their reliance on their own oil and gas with nuclear. This was also the conclusion of the J8, the young people from around the world who debated the issue.’
The G8 agreed on the need to accelerate discussions on a post-2012 climate change framework that included the US, China & India.
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