Polarised debate on sustainability hampering biofuel development
Olivier Mace, head of global strategy and external affairs at BP Biofuels, said the debate about the sustainability of biofuels remains polarised, a situation which, along with a scarcity of finance since the global downturn, had contributed to a shrinking of the industry. Speaking in London he said biofuels have an "important part to play" in achieving universal access to secure and clean energy and must be given "a social licence to operate".
Biofuels are seen as a key technology in decarbonising transport, particularly in areas such as aviation that cannot be easily electrified and the European Union, which is the world's biggest biofuel market, has rules governing sustainability.
Second-generation fuels made from waste, agricultural residues, or even algae are being developed in response to criticisms that growing conventional crops to produce biofuels can compete with agricultural land, forcing up food prices and indirectly contributing to deforestation.
The industry is, however, concerned these standards may change as a result of European Commission's protracted efforts to calculate the environmental impacts of switching land to grow biofuel feedstocks, known as indirect land-use change (ILUC).
Some opponents of biofuels claim that when ILUC is taken into account, many biofuels actually have higher lifetime carbon emissions than fossil fuels.
"Biofuels must be seen by society as a positive thing, a force for good," Mace said. "The groups that have chosen to challenge that licence are lumping all biofuels [together] as if they were all bad. The debate becomes a generic yes or no to biofuels."