A new report by the Royal Academy of Engineering (RAE) has called for a greater focus on second generation biofuel production, in order to develop this industry in the UK and help meet climate change targets.
RAE makes the following policy recommendations:
- Incentivise the development of second generation biofuels, in the first instance those derived from wastes and agricultural, forest and sawmill residues, followed by dedicated energy crops
- Set a cap for the supply of all crop-based biofuels to reduce the risk of indirect land-use change
- Where possible, incentivise the use of marginal land (e.g. land unsuitable for food production or degraded through deforestation) for the production of biofuels, particularly if soil carbon stocks can be replenished
The Sustainability of Liquid Biofuels report calls on the Government to incentivise the use of agricultural and forestry residues as well as wastes initially, followed by perennial energy crops, such as short rotation coppice (SRC), Miscanthus and switchgrass, for renewable fuel production. RAE states that biofuels derived from residues, wastes, and energy crops have lower life cycle carbon emissions than fossil fuels and first generation biofuels (generated from food crops such as wheat and sugar beet). However, the benefits of second generation biofuels from energy crops are less clear cut when considering other environmental impacts, such as acidification and eutrophication.
Emissions related to land-use change contribute significantly to the sustainability of a biofuel. Deforestation and peat land drainage are major issues, and the report calls on decision-makers to encourage second generation biofuel production involving lower levels of land-use change. The report also stresses that social and economic sustainability issues should be considered alongside environmental impacts, in making policy.
Read the full report here.