IEA report calls for advanced biofuels policy support

By Erin Voegele | May 03, 2012

The International Energy Agency recently published a progress report that stresses most clean energy technologies are not being deployed quickly enough. The report, titled “Tracking Clean Energy Progress,” was presented to energy leaders representing 23 governments at the third Clean Energy Ministerial in London.

The report addresses a wide variety of clean energy technologies, including biofuels, biomass, wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower. According to information released by the IEA, the deployment of wind and solar technologies has increased significantly over the past decade. The EIA noted that the rapid adoption of these technologies serves as evidence that rapid technology change is possible.

Regarding biofuels, the IEA’s report stated that total biofuel production needs to double, along with a four-fold increase in the production of advanced biofuels over currently announced capacity, in order to hit the agency’s goal to achieve a 2 degree Celsius limit on global temperature increases by 2020. The goal is referred to as the “2 degree scenario” or “2DS.” In order to achieve this goal, the IEA also said that polices are needed to support the development of an advanced biofuels industry and address sustainability concerns related to the production and use of biofuels.

According to the report, world biofuels production has grown from 16 billion liters (4.2 billion gallons) in 2000 to 100 billion liters (26.4 billion gallons) in 2011. During this time, the IEA said that biofuels accounted for only about 3 percent of road transport fuels on a global basis. To reach the 2DS goal, the report stated that the use of biofuels would have to increase to 240 billion liters (63.4 billion gallons) by 2020. The target for advanced biofuels is 22 billion liters (5.8 billion gallons) of gasoline equivalent by that time. The report estimates that less than 200 million liters (52 million gallons) of advanced biofuel capacity is online today, and that many existing plants are operating at below capacity. The agency also estimates that an additional 1.9 billion liters (501.9 million gallons) of capacity is under construction with 6 billion liters (1.6 billion gallons) of additional capacity proposed.

“Given the industry’s volatile nature and limited operational history, many of these facilities may experience delays and cancellations, or begin with low production rates,” said the IEA in its report. “Without taking these potential shortfalls into consideration, achieving the 2DS by 2020 will still require a four-fold increase in production capacity beyond current announcements, which represents a major challenge. Achieving this will require a significant and sustained push by policy-makers.”

To support the necessary scale up to meet the 2DS goal, the IEA recommends accelerating deployment through dedicated government support for research, development and deployment activities. The agency said that sound backing for initial commercial plants is of particular importance. “Financial support—direct financing, loan guarantees or guaranteed premiums for advanced biofuels—are crucial to reduce risks associated with large investment in precommercial technologies,” the IEA said. “A premium for advanced biofuels, similar to feed-in tariffs for renewable electricity, also effectively addresses the currently higher production costs compared to conventional biofuels.”


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