Kelp Studied as Possible Biofuels Feedstock

Researchers at Aberystwyth University are looking at seaweed, more specifically kelp (Laminaria digitata), as a potential feedstock for biofuels. Lead Researcher, Dr. Jessica Adams, says that seaweed may be a viable feedstock, especially if harvested in the summer as suitability of its chemical composition varies by season. The research found that July is the best time to harvest kelp as its carbohydrate levels are at their highest ensuring optimal sugar release for biofuel production. Metal content is also at its lowest.

“The storage carbohydrate and soluble sugars get converted into ethanol in the fermentation process, so we need as much as possible,” said Adams. “Metals can inhibit the yeast too so we also want these to be as low as possible.”

Welsh coast researchers collected monthly samples of kelp and then used chemical analysis to assess the seasonal variability. The results of the study were presented during the Experimental Biology Annual Conference in Glasgow on July 4th.

The research team noted that kelp can be converted to biofuel in various ways including fermentation or anaerobic digestion that produces ethanol or through methane or pyrolysis that produces bio-oil. The chemical composition of the seaweed is important in both of these processes. Researchers believe that marine ecosystems are an untapped resource and are capable of producing more biomass per square metre than fast growing terrestrial plants such as sugarcane.

“Seaweed biofuel could be very important in future energy production,” said Adams. “What biofuels provide that other renewables such as wind power cannot is a storable energy source that we can use when the wind drops.”

The next focus of the research will be to work to improve the viability of the process by identifying and extracting high value substances, such as pigments and phenols, before the rest of the seaweed is used to produce biofuel.

Hot Springs Microbe May Hold Key to Biofuel Production

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley and the University of Maryland School of Medicine have discovered a microbe in a Nevada hot spring that enjoys eating cellulose (aka plant material) at temperatures above the boiling point of water, 109 degrees Celsius or 228 degrees Fahrenheit. This microbe could hold a key in developing technologies to improve the breakdown of cellulose, an important step in turning biomass to biofuels. The research is being published today in the online journal, Nature Communications.

The hyperthermophilic microbe was discovered in a geothermal pool and is only the second member of the ancient group Archaea known to grow by digesting cellulose above 80℃. In addition, the microbe is the most heat tolerant enzyme found an any cellulose-digesting microbe including bacteria.

“These are the most thermophilic Archaea discovered that will grow on cellulose and the most thermophilic cellulase in any organism,” said coauthor Douglas S. Clark, UC Berkeley professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. “We were surprised to find this bug in our first sample.”

Robb and his colleagues collected sediment and water samples from the 95℃ (203℉) Great Boiling Springs near the town of Gerlach in northern Nevada and grew microbes on pulverized Miscanthus gigas, a common biofuel feedstock, to isolate those that could grow with plant fiber as their only source of carbon.

The discovery is part of research being led by Clark and his team at UC Berkeley along with a team led by Frank T. Robb U-MD School of Medicine in Baltimore. Their goal was to analyze microbes from hot springs and other extreme environments in search of enzymes that could be used in industrial processes including biofuels.

Today, many of the enzymes used are not optimized for extreme temperatures. For example, according to Clark, a fungal enzyme is used to break down difficult plant cellulose into its constituent sugars to enable them to be fermented by yeast into alcohol. However, the preferred temperature is around 50℃ (122℉), and the enzyme is not stable at higher temperatures desirable to prevent other microbes from contaminating the reaction.

“Our hope is that this example and examples from other organisms found in extreme environments – such as high-temperature, highly alkaline or acidic, or high salt environments – can provide cellulases that will show improved function under conditions typically found in industrial applications, including the production of biofuels,” said Clark who noted that this discovery was interesting because it indicates that there are a lot of potentially useful microbes in places that haven’t yet been looked at.

The research is supported by a grant from the Energy Biosciences Institute.

SDSU Helping to Improve Ethanol Plant Efficiency

South Dakota State University (SDSU) is helping to improve the efficiency of ethanol plants.

The SDSU Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering Department recently invested in small scale, corn milling and ethanol processing equipment to let ethanol plant mangers test process adjustments in order to optimize efficiency.

“This small equipment allows them to test small adjustments and see how they work without the expense or risk associated with testing adjustments in a large ethanol plant,” said Van Kelley, Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering department head. “If adjustments aren’t made correctly at a plant processing 100,000 bushels of corn per day – it ends up being an extremely expensive mistake.”

Kelly and his department recently hosted a two-day seminar for some 20 POET plant engineers and managers who got to try out the new equipment. During the hands-on training, POET engineers and process managers used the processing equipment to test many different operating parameters – moisture content, temperature and time. A new, near-infrared spectroscopy system was used to measure the moisture, fiber, protein and fat in the samples.

“This training is designed to go beyond “here’s how you operate the equipment,” and introduce the science behind the milling,'” said said Operations Engineering Manager Beau Schmaltz. The workshop was tested by POET, but designed for the entire ethanol industry.

In this photo provided by SDSU: Shane Roby, operations engineer for POET is pouring a corn sample into the roller mill that has already undergone one pass through the rollers and aspiration separation. Casey Baumiller, left, associate process engineer and Josh Karaus, quality manager are looking on. Byron Thomas, process automation engineer, seated in the background is inspecting another test sample.

Read more from SDSU here.

How Do Farmers Choose Bioenergy Crops?

Carolyn Hoagland was recently awarded the Volkswagen Distinguished Scholar for her work in learning about how farmers choose to grow bioenergy crops. Hoagland, an adult student, is an environmental science major at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC). She conducted her research while working as an intern at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Hoagland found that many aspects of farmers’ choices as well as U.S. farm policy are complex. However, she determined that high quality farm ground is unlikely to be converted to cellulosic energy crops if farmers are concerned about making a profit.

“Most ethanol produced in the U.S. is currently made from corn grain, and the government would like to limit that process and encourage ethanol to be produced instead from non-food crops like switchgrass or hybrid poplar,” said Hoagland. “These poor quality acres can sometimes be profitably converted to switchgrass or other energy crops, but only if a biorefinery is nearby to buy the biomass energy crop.”

The USDA has programs in place to encourage farmers to grow bioenergy crops including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). However, this program is in jeopardy when at the beginning of June, the Senate voted to discontinue any funding for the program in 2012. The bill still needs to go to the House for vote but the industry is confident that it will look much different than the Senate version.

Hoagland presented her research during the Annual Meeting and International Research Conference of Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in Raleigh, North Carolina. She has been studying energy for more than a decade.

“Getting the internship changed my life. In class, it helped me see the big picture. When you’re taking a 300 or 400-level class, it’s hard to put the information into context, but if you’ve completed an internship, when the information is presented, you can understand it UTC had been very welcoming place for adult students,” Hoagland concluded.

What Would Happen If Ethanol Tax Credit Extended?

There are several proposed amendments to current ethanol tax policy including the VEETC and tariff. Many believe that these incentives will disappear at the end of the year, but what would happen if they were extended? Today, the blender’s credit (VEETC) is 45 cents and the ethanol tariff is 54 cents. According to research conducted by University of Missouri economists, this action would boost corn-based ethanol production as well as corn prices.

Seth Meyer, economist with the MU Food and Agricultural Food and and Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) ran a “what-if” scenario on FAPRI computers. With incentives in place, the results showed fuel production from corn would increase by 1.2 gallons over current production levels and corn prices would increase by 18 cents per bushel. In addition, the model predicts that corn acreage would increase by 1.7 million acres.

Earlier this year, the team ran the scenario without tax credits and tariffs. However, this time the scenario was run on the assumption that they would continue but did not factor in any changes to current biofuel mandates.

“This analysis looks at an alternative scenario that keeps ethanol tax credit and tariff at current levels,” said Pat Westhoff, director of MU FAPRI. “There is debate about federal support of the ethanol industry. At a Paris meeting last week, G-20-nation trading partners raised concerns about U.S. support of biofuels. The revised baseline gives FAPRI a tool to study proposed policy changes.”

Westhoff notes that U.S. ethanol policy is complex with a broad set of assumptions. It is assumed that the blender of record who receives the tax credit would keep part of the benefit and then share part of the benefit with station owners. From there, it is assumed station owners would pass along the savings to consumers at the pump. In addition, the tax credit is also designed to allow blenders the ability to pay more for ethanol and ethanol producers the ability to pay farmers more for corn. However, this is not always the case.

Westhoff concluded, “Our work suggests that how benefits of the blender’s tax credit are shared among fuel consumers, ethanol plants and corn farmers is very sensitive to market conditions.”

Worldwide 90% of Consumers Want More Renewable Energy

According to a new study released today by Vestas Wind Systems, 90 percent of consumers worldwide want more renewable energy, 65 percent prefer to purchase brands produced using wind energy and 53 percent in China and 7 percent of respondents in the U.S. view climate change as the greatest challenge. The Global Consumer Wind Study 2011 as well as the Corporate Renewable Energy Index (CREX) 2011, show the relationship between consumer demand for renewable energy in the products and services they purchase. In addition, the studies highlight what corporations are or are not doing to meet consumer demands for greater use of renewable energy.

Ditlev Engel, President and CEO of Vestas said, “Consumers around the world see climate change as the greatest single challenge, and 90 percent of consumers want more renewable energy. This shows a real global desire to reduce carbon emissions. It gives corporate decision makers something to think about and act upon.”

The Global Consumer Wind Study 2011 is the largest undertaken of its kind with 31,000 respondents participating in 26 countries. The goal of the survey was to learn more about consumer demand for products made with renewable energy. Consumers were asked how energy decisions made by companies affect their purchasing decisions. In addition, consumers were asked about their perceptions of climate change. The annual study was commission by Vestas and conducted by TNS Gallup.

“The Global Consumer Wind Study provides insight into the role of renewable energy, in particular wind, in relation to the products and services consumers buy,” added Engel.” This in turn should drive the adoption of renewable energy sources by the corporations that sell these products and services.”

The Corporate Renewable Energy Index, with 176 respondents, was based on data from CREX, commissioned by Vestas and conducted by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The companies using the most renewable energy are News Corp., Plum Creek Timber, Kohl’s Corporation, and Whole Foods Market, who uses 100 percent wind energy and has been named Global Wind Energy Champion.

Biofuels Benchmarking Annual Report Released

Christianson & Associates, a CPA and consulting firm for the ethanol, biodiesel and renewable energy industry, today released its 2nd Annual Biofuels Benchmarking Report. The report found several key findings: profitably increased for the industry on average 8 cents; equity to asset ratio increased more than 10 percent; and working capital improvements enabled plants to decrease long-term debt by an average of 20 cents per gallon. The report also found that despite higher corn prices in 2010, margin volatility has decreased.

In an interview with John Christianson, Partner, Christianson & Associates, he said that the past two years have been recovery years for the ethanol industry and plant management has focused on strengthening their balance sheets to prepare for future volatility. Christianson also noted that despite higher commodity prices, margin volatility has improved.

“There have been a lot of unique things happening in the industry and one of them is that we’ve seen a general rise in commodity prices,” said Christianson. “But even though there has been a sharp rise in commodity prices, so has the fuels. Oil price has risen which has brought up ethanol prices as well. So even though commodity prices have risen, we’ve actually had an improved margin ratio and so the margin volatility has been less.”

Other factors that have helped to improve margins include co-products such as distillers grains, corn oil and carbon dioxide.

Listen to my full interview with John Christianson here: Biofuels Benchmarking Report Highlights

This in-depth report analyzes the operational and financial performance of more than 60 ethanol plants in five major “benchmark” areas: overall ethanol industry analysis, regional ethanol plant analysis, production capacity analysis, plant production efficiency analysis, and balance sheet analysis. This year’s financial outlook is much improved and one reason is due to plants improving their risk management while they continue to improve their production efficiencies and energy costs. These two areas will be a focus on Christianson & Associates upcoming 7th Annual Biofuels Financial Conference next week.

As a veteran of the industry I asked John considering the results of the biofuels benchmarking study, what word of advice does he have for the industry to manage risk. “Looking at the operations of an ethanol plant today, one is you have to operate your business within the parameters that you can fundamentally handle the risk, recommended Christianson.

The report is available for free to all benchmarking participants and for a nominal fee for others. You can purchase the report here.

NBB Study Shows Biodiesel’s Benefits

According to a new study released today by the National Biodiesel Board (NBB), the U.S. biodiesel industry will grow to support more than 74,000 jobs throughout the economy by 2015. These jobs will create nearly $4 billion in household income and generate almost $1.6 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues. The study was conducted by Cardno ENTRIX and released in timing with NBB’s annual membership meeting being held in Washington, D.C.

“This shows without question that a healthy and thriving biodiesel industry is good for America,” said Joe Jobe, CEO of NBB. “Biodiesel isn’t just improving our environment and shoring up our energy security, it’s creating good-paying jobs in virtually every state in the country.”

The study also looked at how the industry responded after losing its key tax incentive in 2010, which was retroactively brought back at the end of the year. It discovered the expiration of the tax credit and the resulting 42 percent drop in production caused the loss of nearly 8,900 jobs. Household income also decreased by $485 million and a reduction in real GDP or $879 million.

Fortunately for the industry, this year marks a major turnaround as the Renewable Fuels Standard ramps up with biodiesel considered an advanced biofuel. In January alone, production jumped 69 percent and is continuing to climb.

“Since the EPA designated us as an advanced biofuel last year and Congress reinstated our tax incentive in December, the market has responded with incredible quickness, ” said Jobe. “Plants across the country are reopening and ramping up production. This means new jobs in all sorts of sectors – manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, sales. It means plants are hiring, buying supplies and machinery, and circulating money throughout the economy.”

Jobe continued, “The numbers also show what happens when those incentives weren’t there in 2010. They demonstrate what we’ve been saying, that biodiesel is still a young industry. We’re trying to gain a foothold in a business that is and always has been dominated by fossil fuels, and breaking into that business is extraordinarily difficult.”

Human Waste for Biofuels?

Can fecal sludge be used for biofuels? Maybe believes Kartik Chandran an associated professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia Engineering. He has recently been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the Gates Foundation to continue his research into a new model for water, sanitation and energy. And this is where fecal sludge, aka poop comes in.

This is not the first time poop has been studied to make fuel. Companies have tried to use the waste from large scale cattle farms and from zoo animals. But this project is a bit different. Chandran is working with Ashley Murray, founder and director of Waste Enterprisers, and Moses Mensah, a Chemical Engineering professor at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, to develop an innovative technology to transform fecal sludge into biodiesel and create the “Next-Generation Urban Sanitation Facility” in Accra, Ghana.

“We are delighted to be awarded this project,” Chandran says. “And we are especially pleased that the Gates Foundation has recognized the critical importance of sustainable sanitation by investing in our pioneering project. Thus far, sanitation approaches have been extremely resource- and energy-intensive and therefore out of reach for some of the world’s poorest but also most at-need populations. This project will allow us to move forward and develop practical technologies that will be of great value around the world.”

Chandran has been working in Ghana for two years as the faculty advisor for the Columbia University Engineers without Borders Ghana team. He and his team have a goal of developing a bioprocess technology to convert the organic compounds present in fecal sludge to biodiesel and methane. In essence, this would convert the waste-processing facility into a state-of-the art biorefinery.

Not only would this biorefinery produce economical fuel but would also minimize the discharge of fecal sludge into the water system contributing to better human health and sanitation. Chandran hopes that once the project is proven successful, it could be integrated into a social enterprise business model that would improve economics and health in areas around the world.

Chandran concluded, “This project also affords a new path in engineering education, both in the United States and Ghana. By training tomorrow’s engineers in sustainable approaches to ‘resource and energy recovery’ rather than ‘wastewater treatment,’ a sea-change can be achieved in the way we perceive of and manage human waste. In fact, the term ‘wastewater’ is already archaic. Wastewater is, after all, just water with a different chemical and biological composition.”

Study Underway to Make Plastics From Soy Oil

University of Minnesota researchers are developing degradable plastics from soybean oil. These bioplastics could become a replacement for those made with petroleum and natural gas. Marc Hillmyer, Distinguished McKnight University Professor of chemistry and Director of the Center for Sustainable Polymers, believes that to wean the country from all things fossil fuels, including chemicals and plastics, alternatives based on renewable resources must be developed.

One of the greatest challenges that must be overcome is the fact that while polylactides (PLA) are degradable polymers that can be used in a variety of products, they tend to soften at higher temperatures. This rules them out for extensive use in food and beverage packing applications. Enter Hillmyer. He and his team have developed new types of polyactide-based materials that could overcome this challenge.

Hillmyer believes this discovery could be used in a wide variety of applications that require high temperature stability and toughness. These include plastic bottles, microwave trays, cell phones and more. Hillmyer believes sustainable polymers are the “materials of tomorrow.”

The plasticizers developed by Hillmyer and his team including Dr. Dharma Kodali, are derived from soy oil. Kodali explained that the new plasticizers are synthesized in their lab and could be a viable replacement for petroleum-derived plasticizers. They are comparable in price and performance but are safer, says Kodali, because they are made from renewable resources and degrade readily if leaked into environment. Continue reading

New Oxfam Report: Growing a Better Future

A new report, “Growing a Better Future,” has the ethanol industry up in arms over its accusation that U.S. biofuel policy is leading to world hunger. The report kicked off a new worldwide GROW campaign spearheaded by the organization. The report covers the symptoms of today’s broken food system: growing hunger, flat-lining yields, a scramble for fertile land and water, and rising food prices while the GROW campaign attempts to overcome these issues.

The report predicts that the price of food, already at a record high, will more than double in the next 20 years. In addition, by 2050, demand for food will rise 70 percent, yet the report says the world’s capacity to increase food production is declining. A contributor to these issues: global climate change and pro biofuel policies throughout the world.

“Our world is capable of feeding all of humanity yet one in seven of us are hungry today,” said Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam. “In this new age of crisis, as climate change impacts become increasingly severe and fertile land and fresh water supplies become increasingly scarce, feeding the world will get harder still. Millions more men, women and children will go hungry unless we transform our broken food system.”

Both Growth Energy and the Renewable Fuels Association acknowledge that Oxfam is partially correct in their identifying the role that high oil prices and international trade have on the price of corn. However, they diverge with the report on biofuels being a cause of starving “millions of people” as the report purports.

“Oxfam is wrong to propose ending the Renewable Fuel Standard or the biofuels tax credit, as these are the most effective policies we have to displace oil – a primary driver of rising grocery prices,” said Jim Nussle, Growth Energy President. “It is unfair and erroneous to single out ethanol for high food prices, especially because the U.S. ethanol industry uses just three percent of the global grain supply on a net basis.”

RFA President Bob Dinneen highlighted the significant improvements in agriculture over the past few decades and called for more widespread adoption of improved agricultural practices worldwide. “The same opportunities at varying scales are available to farm communities in developing nations. Together with improved farming technologies, local biofuel production can provide developing rural economies with the kind of economic prosperity needed to become more food secure,” concluded Dinneen.

Pathway to Develop Sustainable Aviation Biofuels Industry

In 2010, the Sustainable Aviation Fuels Northwest (SAFN) was formed to determine how the Pacific Northwest could create a viable and robust biofuels industry with the goal of creating fuels for the aviation industry. Yesterday, a 10 month study conducted by Climate Solutions has determined that the Pacific Northwest has the diverse feedstock, fuel-delivery infrastructure and political will needed to achieve their goals. However, the report stressed that creating an aviation biofuels industry will depend upon securing early government policy support to prioritize the aviation industry in U.S. biofuels development.

Partners in the program include Boeing, Alaska Airlines, Portland International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Spokane International Airport and Washington State University.

“It is critical to the future of aviation that we develop a sustainable supply of aviation biofuels,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Jim Albaugh during a press announcement. “Airlines are particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility, and the aviation community must address this issue to maintain economic growth and further mitigate the environmental impacts of our industry.”

Dr. John Gardner, vice president for advancement and external affairs at Washington State University noted that there were three goals of the report. The study aimed to verify what the sources of biomass would be; what the supply chain would be and the steps needed to make it happen; and what policies might be barriers.

To create a market for aviation biofuels, the study outlines an integrated approach recommending the use of diverse feedstock and technology pathways, including oilseeds, forest residues, solid waste and algae. In addition, the study outlines the long-term importance of securing aviation biofuels as a top government priority and using the aviation industry to drive growth in domestic production.

Bill Ayer, Alaska Air Group Chairman, noted that consumers care about the issue of high fuel costs and sustainable future fuels and the airlines are taking the issue seriously. Continue reading

California Fuels Report Released

A new report, “Projected Outlook for Next Generation and Alternative Transportation Fuels in California 2010-2030,” has been released. The report concludes that with current investments and advances in alternative fuels over the past several years should lead to a significant displacement of petroleum-based fuels like diesel and gasoline. The report was released by Fueling California and Orange County Business Council and was authored by research experts at University of California, Irvine, the Automotive Club of Southern California and Tiax, LLC.

“Historically, California has been a trend-setter for the rest of the world in the transportation and fuel sectors,” said Mr. Sturtz. “California represents one of the largest fuel markets in the world and also houses some of the most technically innovative people, research institutions, and businesses to create an environment that incubates innovative and next-generation technologies. “These market factors coupled with a unique set of state government regulations that are creating a push for alternative fuels points to a large market that could potentially provide commercial benefits to all components of the fuel supply chain.”

While the report suggests a reduction of fossil-fuel based transportation fuels, because it takes between 10-15 years to change a fleet, by 2030 at least 75 percent of the fuels used will still remain petroleum-based. The report discusses three principal drivers for development of alternative fuels worldwide: reducing greenhouse gases, energy security, and urban air pollution. The report also discusses state policies, socio-economic factors, market forces, and business environment in California. Continue reading

Survey Says Consumers Consider Ethanol A Green Product

In a study released by Genencor during the BIO World Congress in Toronto, when U.S. consumers were asked to name a product they considered green, 39 percent of them named ethanol first and 31 percent of Canadian respondents also named ethanol as a green product. This is just one of results discovered in the Genencor Household Sustainability Index that researched the market potential for “green” household products with environmental benefits.

In addition, the study found that four in 10 American consumers and about a third of Canadian consumers have already heard the term “biobased” to describe various products including fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel, as well as cleaning and personal care products and clothing.

“I think very clearly that they know what a green product is, but haven’t yet made the link on how we’re going to make those products green and how important biobased products are going to be,” said Tjerk de Ruiter, CEO of Genencor.

“It was very interesting to see that ethanol was at the top of the list. Now of course we were very pleased with that because ethanol is such an important product and such an important marketplace for us,” said de Ruiter. “But it also shows that the consumer really starts to buy in to the concept of the importance of home produced fuels and really the contribution that ethanol is delivering to the economy.”

Listen to my interview with Tjerk de Ruiter here: Genencor Household Sustainability Index

I asked de Ruiter how biobased enzymes, such as their product, differed from what we’ve seen in the past. “When you work with a biobased organism, you can continuously improve. If we look at the enzyme systems we have today, they are a lot more efficient allowing you to extract a lot more alcohol, or ethanol, out of the product itself, and quite often at lower temperatures and in the process reducing energy use,” said de Ruiter.

Other products consumers found to be green were detergents, cosmetics and some clothing. The survey will be used to create a baseline to determine if “biobased” products become better understood, accepted and adopted by consumers. Click here to learn more.

Click here to see photos from the 2011 BIO World Congress.

FAO Studies Pros & Cons of Bioenergy

FAO has released a new report that contains methodology designed to aid policymakers assess the pros and cons of investing in the bioenergy industry. The “Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) Analytical Framework” was written to help governments evaluate the potential of bioenergy as well as assess its possible food security impacts. The framework was developed over a three-year time frame and cites development and field tests that took place in Peru, Tanzania and Thailand.

The report is comprised of a series of step-by-step evaluations that seek to answer critical questions regarding the feasibility of bioenergy development and the impacts on food availability and household food security. In addition, social and environmental dimensions are also considered. The paper also serves as a platform for bringing key ministries and institutions together so they can work on the same page.

“Our goal is to help policy-makers take informed decisions regarding whether bioenergy development is a viable option and, if so, identify policies that will maximize benefits and minimize risks,” explains Heiner Thofern, who heads FAO’s Bioenergy and Food Security (BEFS) project.

The drive to biofuels have been driven by both worries over greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels as well as high oil prices and energy security concerns. FAO believes that one important benefit of investments into the bioenergy sector is that it could spark much-needed investment in agricultural and transport infrastructure in rural areas. This would create jobs and boost household income. These benefits could lesson both poverty and food security concerns. FAO has also conducted separate studies that show small-scale bioenergy projects not designed for export markets can improve food security and help boost rural economies.

“FAO has been saying for years that under-investment in agriculture is a problem that seriously handicaps food production in the developing world, and that this, coupled with rural poverty, is a key driver of world hunger,” says Thofern. “Done properly and when appropriate, bioenergy development offers a chance to drive investment and jobs into areas that are literally starving for them.”

Yet while there are major potential benefits to bioenergy production, FAO warns there are also potential negatives. They write that large-scale biofuel production could come at the expense of food production, leading to less food available, and higher food prices. In addition, deforestation is also a concern. Therefore, potential risks and benefits need to be weighed.