Biofuels remain important for developing countries

Biofuels bear a growth potential for developing countries. Properly employed, they can contribute to national energy strategies without interfering with food production, says a new UNCTAD report.

Biofuels cover one per cent of global energy consumption. According to the report “The State of Biofuels Market: Regulatory, Trade and Development Perspectives”, recently published by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Brazil, given climate change and pressure through economic growth, second-generation biofuels represent a sector of increasing importance. While not attributing them the potential to replace fossil fuels on a large scale, the report does assign them a supplementary role in meeting the overall demand for energy.

Since the last respective UNCTAD report of 2006, bioethanol and biodiesel have above all drawn attention through their use in the transport sector and are traded on a daily basis on all continents. Since then, however, there have also been new developments regarding liquid biofuels. They are already being used in aircraft, in electric motors and in maritime transport. The report now published contains policy recommendations for developing countries to put framework conditions in place to draw an optimum benefit from the growth and use of biofuels. The recommendations aim at integrating the natural resources into energy planning without creating competition with food production and rural incomes.

Above all the use of second-generation fuel is a challenge for several developing countries. They are no longer produced with plants supplying oil or hydrocarbons but with wood, biowaste and by-products of the processing industry. One of the most important UNCTAD recommendations is to bridge the technology gap in processing new raw materials through international strategies.

Specific framework conditions are needed for developing countries if biofuels are to enhance their economic growth. For example, sustainability criteria have to be formulated that reach along the entire value chain, up to securing the livelihoods of smallholders, without causing them any further costs. A stable business environment can enable the flow of private investments and new technologies to raise the potential of the new fuels. Research and technology need to be fine-tuned bearing in mind that they can also be applied in other countries without additional costs.

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Roland Krieg, journalist, Berlin