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The Bioenergy Debate in Africa


Bioenergy, defined as energy derived from materials of organic origin or biomass (including trees, grass, agricultural crops, animals, bacteria, etc), includes bioliquids, gaseous fuels and solid biofuels fuel for transport, electricity, heating and cooling. Common forms of bioenergy include biodiesel, bioethanol, biomethane, biogas, synthetic gas, briquettes, biochar, charcoal, wood, etc.

The feedstocks for the biofuels include: maize, sorghum, sunflower, palm, cassava, soya, rapeseed (canola), jatropha, castor, flaxseed, wheat, rice, barley, etc.

The most important biofuels today are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is produced predominantly from sugar cane and maize and, to a lesser degree, from wheat, sugar beet and cassava. Biodiesel mostly uses rapeseed but also palm oil, soybean oil and jatropha.

Why is bioenergy important

Biomass energy is remarkably heterogeneous — from the large scale 30 MW gas turbines and down to the small 3-stone cooking fires. Small-scale systems — of up to say 500 kW capacity, enough to energize a village containing some small commercial or industrial enterprises — can meet the goal of poverty reduction directly and effectively. Modern biomass energy is well-suited to this objective. World-wide interest in modern bioenergy is based on its major generic advantages compared to fossil fuels and other renewable energy sources. Some of these advantages are particularly relevant to the use of bioenergy as a tool for poverty reduction:

  1. Biomass fuels are more widely available than fossil fuels and most other renewable energy sources. They are found wherever trees and food are grown and food and fibre are processed; i.e. in nearly all inhabited rural areas.
  2. Biomass fuels are stored energy which can be drawn on at any time to provide needed energy services. In this respect they are like fossil fuels but differs markedly from most other renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and hydropower, with their nightly, seasonal or sporadic supply shut-downs. Biofuels require no expensive storage devices, such as batteries.
  3. Bioenergy systems can provide all the major energy carriers (liquids, gases, heat, electricity). They can therefore meet the two main needs of rural energy users: replacing traditional biomass cooking fuels with clean, smokeless, efficient and easily-controlled liquid and gas alternatives, and delivering the modern fuels, heat and electricity which are needed to underpin rural modernization and growth. Moreover, well-organized systems can provide these energy carriers whenever they are required, avoiding the hardship brought about by the severe and frequent disruptions to conventional electricity, bottled gas or kerosene supplies that afflict many rural areas of the developing world.
  4. Bioenergy systems have substantial economies of scale. They are therefore well-suited to village-scale supply (e.g. via mini-grids) and to system expansion.
  5. So long as biofuel supply does not “mine” biomass resources — a necessary condition for project sustainability — bioenergy is climate friendly because it is CO2 neutral. Well-designed energy crops can restore otherwise unproductive degraded lands (though normally at considerable cost).
  6. Most of the value added from village-scale bioenergy projects is retained locally and contributes to poverty reduction, in contrast to the use of fossil fuels and most renewable energy technologies.
  7. Finally, as with all renewable energy sources, bioenergy helps the national economy by reducing fossil fuel imports and their foreign exchange costs.

Key drivers for bioenergy worldwide

The major driver behind spectacular increase in worldwide demand for biofuels is concern about energy security, as a result of rising oil prices, finite fossil fuel reserves and geo-political considerations. This in turn has resulted in various countries and regional communities establishing bioenergy targets.

The EU biofuels policy, which was introduced in 2003 and further elaborated in 2008/2009 (the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and Fuel Quality Directive (FQD)), has three specific aims:
  • Reducing dependency on imports of crude oil and transportation fuels (security of supply).
  • Maintaining agricultural productivity, incomes and employment and preserving quality of life in rural areas.
  • Reducing transport-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by using sustainably produced biofuels.
The EU RED biofuels target for 2020 is to have 10% of fuel demand in EU road transport covered by biofuels. This translates to a potential amount of biofuels of approximately 32 Mtoe. Current biofuels consumption amounts to 10 Mtoe, or 3% of current EU transport fuel consumption. It is held that the 10% share of biofuels in 2020 will reduce road transport GHG emissions by at least 50 Mt CO2/year, excluding emissions related to refining and crude oil extraction, and by at least 55 Mt CO2/year if these steps in the supply chain are included.

The USA has its own targets in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2). The RFS2 mandates increasing the consumption of biofuels to 36 billion gallons (1 US gallon = 3.78541178 litres) annually by 2022. Of the 36 billion gallons, 15 billion gallons are expected to be filled with ethanol derived from corn starch (or “corn ethanol”) while 21 billion gallons are mandated to be comprised of “advanced” biofuels. To ensure that the biofuels promoted in RFS2 are actually good for the climate, the RFS2 stipulates that biofuels could only qualify for the RFS2 if they achieve at least a 20 percent reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline. Advanced biofuels are expected to achieve a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to gasoline.

Various countries have their own targets (Rwanda (2020), Kenya (2030), etc).

Issues of Concern

Many countries, low-, middle-income and rich, have implemented ambitious targets and policies to promote significant biofuel industries. Yet this rapid growth in biofuels production has not been without controversy as concerns have been raised by a wide range of stakeholders about the environmental and social impacts of biofuel production and about the cost-effectiveness of some biofuels support policies.   The key issues raised may be listed under broad aspects as follows:
(a) Impact on food security
(b) Impact on social and economic status of local people

(c) Environmental concerns

(d) Indirect land use change

(e) Land use rights

(f) Emerging issues
We explore these issues in detail in separate pages under this chapter. Where possible, we provide references to published articles supporting certain perspectives. Some freely available reports are attached for your reference.

Purpose of this information

The purpose of this information is geared towards providing the relevant background information to inform effective debate on the International Standard being developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The Standard, ISO/WD 13065, Sustainability criteria for bioenergy, is a major milestone towards addressing most of the issues raised with regard to the rapidly expanding quest to utilize biofuels in both the developed countries and the developing countries. The information is provided free of charge.

The information provided is indended to inform delegations and other participants from both developed and developing countries and other stakeholders about the relevant issues and explicit case studies on certain aspects of the standard.

Resource documents for bioenergy

International Standard

Please access from: www.iso.org/iso/home.html

Other Standards
The Sustainability of Biofuels — Limits of the Meta-Standard Approach
Setting a Quality Standard for Fuel Ethanol

Benefits of biofuels  
Using modern bioenergy to reduce rural poverty
The importance of biofuels
, Luiz Carlos Corrêa Carvalho 2005

Sustainability issues  
Sustainable bioenergy: Framework for decision makers, UN-Energy
Bioenergy sustainability principles

EU Sustainability criteria for biofuels — Consolidated texts

Sustainability standards, OEKO (2006) WWF

Pathways to sustainable and poverty eradication

Potential of sustainable liquid biofuel production in Rwanda

Roundtable on responsible soy (RTRS)

RSB Principles and criteria for sustainable biofuel production

RSPO Principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil production

RSPO Supply chain certification systems

Standardized initiatives towards sustainable biomass certification

Sustainability criteria & certification systems for biomass production

Sustainability criteria for biomass and biofuels

Sustainable bioenergy and food security

Verification of compliance with sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids

Global principles and criteria for sustainable biofuels production, V 0.0

Blueprint Germany: A strategy for a climate-safe 2050

Sustainability quick check for biofuels (SQCB)

Criteria for a sustainable use of bioenergy on a global scale

Criteria for sustainable biomass production

Driving legislations and targets  
Directive 2009/28/EC, Promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007
Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 - A Summary of major provisions

Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2) - Notice of final rulemaking
Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2) Summary & analysis of comments

Economics of biofuels  
The impact of sustainability criteria on the costs and potentials of bioenergy production
Jatropha: Money does not grow on trees!

Impacts of the EU biofuel target on agricultural markets and land use

Extractive industries and Millenium Development Goals for Sub-Saharan Africa

Biofuels production, trade and sustainable development

Challenges and opportunities for developing countries in producing biofuels

Impact of bioenergy on food security  
Bioenergy and food security: Analytical framework
Bioenergy and global food security

Biofuels and food security: Implications of an accelerated production

Bioenergy, food security and sustainability: Towards an international framework

Will bioenergy development pose a threat to food security in developing countries?

Second FAO technical consultation on bioenergy & food security

The right to food and the impact of liquid biofuels

Price volatility in food and agricultural markets — Policy responses

PISCES food security scoping study

Call for scientific statement on bioenergy and food security

Bioenergy and food security: Analysis for Tanzania

Biofuels and the underlying causes of high food prices

Food Security in Brazil

Do biofuels mitigate GHG emissions?  
Accounting for ILUC in GHG balances of biofuels
Use of US croplands for biofuels increases GHGs through emissions from land use change  
Executive Summary — Understanding land use change and U.S. ethanol expansion  
Quantification of the effects on greenhouse gas emissions of policies and measures  
ILUC can overcome carbon savings from biofuels in Brazil  
Flying in the face of the facts: Greenwashing the aviation industry with biofuels  
Ethanol expansion and indirect land use change in Brazil  
Biofuels in 2011

Climate Change and Water, IPPC Tec Paper VI, 2008  
Corn ethanol and climate change

Land use change & indirect land use change  
Tackling Indirect Land Use
"Sustainable" palm oil driving deforestation

Supporting materials for use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land use change

Sugar cane and land use change in Brazil

Soy oil and indirect land use change

Indirect land use change from increased biofuels demand — Comparison of models
Indirect land use change for biofuels

GBEP workshop on idirect land use change - Status of and perspectives on science-based policies

Biofuels: Indirect land use change and climate impact 

Indirect effects of bioenergy
Indirect effects of bioenergy: Effects on landscapes and livelihoods

Bioenergy fuelling land grabs
Africa up for grabs — The scale and impact of land grabbing for agrofuels
Rising global interest in farmland: Can it yield sustainable and equitable benefits?

The socio-economic effects of GM-crops

Who benefits from GM crops - an industry built on myths

Second generation biofuels
Second-generation biofuels - Economics and policies
Role of lignocellulosic feedstocks