ABU DHABI, March 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Growing
use of electric vehicles around the world is helping lower
climate changing emissions, but some means of transport will be
hard to electrify, particularly air travel and shipping, energy
To “decarbonise” those, the world will need to rapidly
develop and bring to market biofuels – while trying to ensure
they don’t crowd out food production, say the authors of a
report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
With “the right selection of the right raw material” about
12 percent of transport fuel could come from renewable sources
by 2030, said Francisco Boshell, a technology analyst at IRENA
and one of the report’s authors.
The “right” materials might include forest waste such as
sawdust, fast-growing trees, agricultural residue, algae and
“high-energy” crops, such as grasses grown on degraded parcels
of land around the world, Boshell said.
“Biofuels have a vital role to play in the global transition
to sustainable, renewable energy and, together with electric
vehicles and the increase of renewables in the power mix, they
can help us move away from petroleum use in passenger
transport,” the report noted.
Today biofuels are relatively expensive compared to fossil
fuels such as oil and gas, but investing in innovation in their
production and use could potentially reduce their costs by a
third over the next three decades, the report said.
To overcome cost problems countries need to come up with
innovative technologies, craft favourable policies and develop
business models to incentivise production and drive down prices,
Care however needs to be taken to ensure that biofuel
expansion doesn’t result in farmland being turned from food
production to biofuel production, Boshell said.
A THIRD OF WORLD ENERGY
Transport currently accounts for about a third the world’s
energy use, half its oil consumption, and a fifth of its
greenhouse gas emissions, the IRENA report said. Those numbers
could rise with the number of vehicles on the roads estimated to
grow from about 1.2 billion currently to as many as 2 billion by
2030, it said.
Aviation alone contributes nearly 3 percent of global carbon
emissions, a share that is likely to grow in the future as
economies develop, the report said.
Existing biofuel production stands at 1 billion litres a
year, or just 0.004 percent of current global fuel demand, IRENA
Production plants at planning stage or under construction
could potentially add another 2 billion litres per year of
ethanol, methanol, mixed alcohol and jet fuels, the report’s
“The pace of production and investment will have to increase
exponentially, and projects develop further afield, if advanced
liquid biofuels are to fulfil their practical and economic
potential for displacing fossil fuels,” they said.
They attribute slow growth in investment in biofuels partly
to low oil prices in recent years.
European, North American and Latin American countries lead
in alternative fuels production, the report said, noting that
there is little production in African and Asian countries,
except for Japan, China and South Korea.
ELECTRICITY STILL BEST
According to Rachel Kyte, chief executive of Sustainable
Energy for All, an organisation working to achieve 100 percent
global access to sustainable energy by 2030, the best way to cut
transport emissions is to focus on electrifying transport as
much as possible.
But shipping, aviation, mass transport systems and long haul
transport – all significant contributors to global emissions –
may need to rely on biofuels in order to meet carbon-cutting
targets, she said.
“The long-term future to decarbonising the transport sector
lies in use of biofuels that have twice the efficiency of
ordinary fuels,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Other ways to cut transport emissions could come from
designing cities so that public transport is more efficient and
by encouraging non-motorised forms of transport, Kyte said.
One worry is that few new technologies are in the pipeline
to reduce emissions from aviation, even as air travel expands as
economies grow around the world, said Deger Saygin, a programme
officer at IRENA’s Innovation and Technology Centre.
Projections also suggest that a third of the growth in
demand for oil over the next 10 to 15 years will come from the
trucking industry in Asia, he said.
(Reporting by Maina Waruru; editing by Laurie Goering:; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
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