The energy and research consultant Wood Mackenzie has suggested that waste-based biofuels should be ‘a key driver of energy transition.’ Gasworld reports that the increased use of biofuels would solve the problem of the limited range of low carbon transport fuels.
There are now emerging technologies which allow biofuels to be produced from agricultural residue, municipal wate, and recycled plastic waste, rather than from crops specifically grown for the purpose.
This circumvents the problems generated by growing biofuel crops, which can lead to higher rates of deforestation, higher water consumption, and use up valuable farm land which could be used for food production. Making use of waste also saves on landfill and incineration, which is polluting and costly.
This issue was highlighted recently, when there calls to scrap biofuel mandates in order to compensate for the shortage of wheat production, which was caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. About 10% of the world’s grain is currently converted into biofuel, and a third of all the maize grown in the US is converted into ethanol and blended into petrol.
Wood Mackenzie vice president Alan Gelder said, “Many governments have understandably pulled away from using food-based biofuels, which has hampered the industry’s growth. However, there still is plenty of opportunity for growth, especially when we look at waste-based alternatives.
“For some areas of the transport sector, such as air travel, there is little alternative to liquid fuel, making decarbonising difficult. This source of biofuel could be tremendously beneficial, providing a cleaner fuel alternative that addresses both future power and environmental needs.”
Wood Mackenzie’s research suggests that waste-based biofuels have the potential to generate 20 million barrels of liquid biofuels per day by 2050, which would meet a quarter of all liquid fuel demand, and three quarters of all distilled fuel demand.
The company recommends that the collection and processing of waste should be done on a local scale, to avoid the extra CO2 emissions and expense of transporting solids over long distances. This will help to create a circular economy. Most refineries are already equipped to process pre-treated biowaste into liquid fuels.
Gelder added: “In turning waste into biofuels, being local is an advantage. The biofuels ecosystem would revolve around a hub-and-spoke distribution model, where the initial conversion of waste to biofuels is local, with the liquids produced then aggregated for processing in an existing refining facility.”
“Refineries know how to do this and for many, this could be key to their long-term viability. It would have tremendous benefits to local economies and employment, creating a powerful argument for governments to develop incentives.”
It is thought that transport companies could be offered incentives to switch to low carbon fuels, in the form of tax credits. The UK has already invested significantly in biomass project funding, and the government has set some of the world’s most ambitious targets to achieve carbon net zero by 2050.
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