A new landmark government study, written by the UK’s National Centre for Biorenewable Energy, Fuels and Materials (NNFCC) suggests that the UK will miss its renewable transport targets without significant investment in a new generation of biofuels.
New technologies – like gasification and pyrolysis – allow biofuels to be made from a wide range of sustainable materials, such as household rubbish. Until recently these technologies were confined to laboratories but we are now beginning to unlock their huge potential.
By 2020, 10 per cent of the energy used in UK road and rail transport must come from renewable sources – this is the equivalent of replacing 4.3 million tonnes of fossil oil each year.
Most of our renewable fuel currently comes from vegetable oils. However, due to limited availability and competing demands for sustainable vegetable oils, conventional biofuels are likely to produce just 3.7 to 6.6 per cent of the energy needed in road and rail transport by 2020, some way off the 10% target fixed in the European Union Renewable Energy Directive.
“Electric cars offer a sound long-term solution to our renewable road transport needs, but biofuels are currently the best way to decrease our carbon emissions from transport,” comments Dr Jeremy Tomkinson, Chief Executive of the NNFCC.
More investment needed
“The UK has ambitious carbon reduction plans and this report highlights the necessity for increased investment in advanced biofuels, which could meet almost half of our renewable transport needs by the end of the decade,” he added.
Under favourable economic conditions and strong improvements in policy support, projections suggest advanced biofuels could meet up to 4.3 per cent of the UK’s renewable transport fuel target by 2020. This would require around 1 million tonnes of woody biomass, 2 million tonnes of wheat (butanol) and 4.4 million tonnes of household, commercial and industrial wastes.
At this scale advanced biofuels would save the UK 3.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year – equivalent to taking nearly a million cars off the road – and create 6000 full-time construction jobs and over 2000 permanent jobs supplying and operating the plants.
The new report calling for greater support for advanced biofuels was written on behalf of the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the UK Department for Transport (DfT) by Lucy Nattrass, NNFCC Technology Research Officer, Dr Claire Smith, NNFCC Technology Research Officer, and Dr Geraint Evans, NNFCC Head of Biofuels and Bioenergy.