New Publication – Variable demand as a means to more sustainable biofuels and biobased materials

Dec 2020

Expanding the use of crop based biofuels is controversial because of concerns about competition with food. This paper describes how varying the biofuel demand could help address these concerns. Variable biofuel demand can be implemented through market or policy mechanisms that adjust biofuel production according to feedstock availability, expanding or contracting in response to supply surplus or limitations. Based on a survey, an expert workshop, and relevant literature, the effects of a variable biofuel demand approach were evaluated with respect to food security, agricultural productivity, detrimental land‐use change, and feedstock competition with biobased chemicals and materials. The paper provides evidence that variable biofuel demand can enhance the synergistic development of agriculture, renewable biomass feedstocks and biofuels, but implementation faces several challenges. Recommendations are provided for governance options to tackle these challenges:

  • Develop policies that specifically respond to feedstock availability and price. The implementation of a temporary halt (emergency break) is recommended, which can prevent or limit potential food crises.
  • Implement a buffer system that can cope with fluctuations in feedstock availability over time and space.
  • Develop a banking / credit carry‐forward system – bank over compliance and when necessary draw from the bank to maintain compliance.
  • Implement performance‐based policies with the flexibility to support local adoption and innovative solutions including better access to inputs, and access to credits and markets.
  • Address market distortions, create a level playing field between various biofuels and between biofuels and biochemicals / materials. One instrument to realize this is a CO2 tax or a renewable materials directive.
  • Provide more incentives to increase crop production per hectare to close the yield gap, ensuring the regulatory and institutional context that is needed to avoid massive cropland expansion.

The work was supported by IEA Bioenergy Task 43 (Biomass supply). The BioFPR journal paper is available at: