Assessment of successes and lessons learned for biofuels deployment – Meta-analysis of existing studies

Aug 2023

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This report presents a meta-analysis on several studies dealing with “successes and lessons learned for biofuels deployment” for advanced as well as conventional biofuels.

Relevant studies were screened, and indicators were established to compare different biofuels. Indicators included policies, feedstocks, products, technologies, economics, environmental issues, social aspects, scalability and ease of implementation and reproduction in different countries or regions. The analysis was limited to biofuels with a technology readiness level (TRL) of at least 7. This work focused on the research question “What are key factors for the success of sustainable biofuel projects”. The standards and indicators of such biofuels can help ascertain conditions to foster their expansion and implementation in other regions, define gaps, especially economic, and devise solutions for the expansion and deployment of new or less mature biofuels.

Conventional biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel are being produced and commercialized in substantial quantities in several countries. Up to this point they are the most relevant to replace fossil fuels worldwide. Yields, costs, and environmental indicators have improved over time. Mandates and proper public policies have been important to support implementation and technological / environmental improvements.

The successful cases of several biofuels, as discussed in this report, indicate that it is possible to supply large amounts of biofuels to help replace fossil fuels and reduce their global warming potential. However, the expansion of biofuel production and the replication of successful country or regional models in other places is not without challenges. The dependency on crop feedstock availability and price fluctuations may limit biofuel production in some instances. Legal restriction to food crop feedstock is also a challenge for the expansion of production of successful conventional biofuels. Temporary feedstock cost and availability restrictions may also be challenges, as shown by changes and postponements of biofuel blending mandates in several countries, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic and as a reaction to high energy prices caused by the Russian invasion in Ukraine. After the easing of the economic constraints, renewable energy and biofuel policies will have to be revised, and action taken to recover the time lost.

Most of the biofuels available in the market today are ethanol, biodiesel, and HVO. Their main feedstocks are crops, often food crops, which face restrictions to produce biofuels in some parts of the world. This poses a dilemma that must be addressed because the main success stories on biofuel production are facing limitations for global implementation. Nonetheless, lessons learned from conventional biofuels turned them into relevant benchmarks and set standards for novel biofuels with low TRL. Published indicators for advanced biofuels are seldom available but there is evidence that technological bottlenecks are being overcome and several plants are already in operation. Besides ethanol from different feedstocks, Biomass to Liquid (BtL), Bio SNG, and HVO show suitable indicators of environmental impact, SDG, and feedstock diversity to be replicated in different regions. Technological and cost limitations must be overcome; this requires research efforts and time to solve the main hurdles. And the clock is ticking.

In view of the need to sharply increase biofuel production to abate the climate crisis, restrictions on some biofuel feedstocks may have to be rethought, especially where they can be sustainably produced, until non-food biofuels become feasible.

  1. Cantarella (IAC), G. M. Souza (USP), L. H. Nogueira (UNICAMP), R. Maciel Filho (UNICAMP), G. C. Paiva (DBFZ), N. I. Canabarro, P. S. Ortiz (UNICAMP), T. Ekbom (Svebio), J. F. Leal Silva (UNICAMP), F. Müller-Langer (DBFZ). Assessment of successes and lessons learned for biofuels deployment – Report Work package 2 | Meta-analysis of existing studies. June 2023. ISBN: 979-12-80907-29-5

Report available here:
Assessment of successes and lessons learned for biofuels deployment – Meta-analysis of existing studies

The successful cases described in the report have been further analyzed in the paper “Biofuel technologies: Lessons learned and pathways to decarbonization”, published in August 2023 on GCB Bioenergy journal.

You can read the full paper here