IEA Bioenergy : Implementation Agendas, Compare-and-Contrast Transport Biofuels Policy | 2023

The latest IEA Bioenergy report titled “Implementation Agendas, Compare-and-Contrast Transport Biofuels Policies” (2023) provides an update on the developments in the production and use of biofuel in member countries (2021 – 2023 Update). In addition, it reviews policies used by Task 39 nations that promote low-carbon intensity biofuels. One of the main messages from the report is that effective and enabling biofuel policies are needed to stimulate the growth of biofuel markets. The goal for the deployment of biofuels is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transport. In 2021, the transport sector consumed a third of the world’s energy demand (113.4 Exajoules) and renewables made up only 4.1% of transport related energy consumption with biofuels accounting for 3.6%. There is thus a crucial need to support the production and use of biofuels with the right policy instruments.

IEA Bioenergy reports that more and more countries are making commitments to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. A growing trend can be seen in the production of low-carbon intensity fuels such as ethanol and bio/ renewable diesel. In parallel, there has been a growth in electric vehicles with the use of ‘green’ electricity expected to play a central role in the decarbonisation of the transport sector. However, for the sectors that are difficult to electrify such as long distance and heavy-duty transportation, low-carbon intensity drop-in biofuels will still be required to decarbonise aviation, shipping, rail, and trucking. Subsequently, an increasing trend focusing on the hard-to-electrify, long distance transport sector has emerged with an increasing use of biojet / sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by the aviation sector and bio/ renewable diesel used by the shipping sector.

Most policy have been in the form of mandates and have been used successfully to encourage production and use of biofuels, by establishing markets and facilitating market entry. To date, most biofuel policies have focused on promoting ‘first-generation / conventional biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel. Although these types of biofuels currently dominate the market, the production of ‘drop-in’ biofuels such as renewablediesel and sustainable aviation fuels has been increasing. Nevertheless, while these mandates are helpful for the reduction of GHG emissions, they tend to be volumetric or energy base rather than focusing on the carbon intensity of the fuel. Although volumetric or energy targets can sometimes be difficult to determine, defining and measuring the carbon intensity of a biofuel has proven to be significantly more challenging as many factors such as impact of land use changes, sources of electricity or the default value can influence the reported values. IEA Bioenergy Task 39 provides international cooperation that allows a compare-and-contrast of successful, enabling policies but it stresses the need for ongoing cooperation in an endeavour to decarbonise its transportation sectors.

Highlights from Task 39 nations and technology developments: 

The report presents a country-by-country member overview of the latest policy development for biofuel production. Task 39 nations are promoting the production and use of transport biofuels through a combination of market demand and research and development policies. Below are some highlights on the latest development in the promotion of advanced biofuels:

The country has promoted the use of E10 and hopes to expand ethanol production intended as transportation fuel. The State Council released an Action Plan advocating the use of advanced biofuels, SAF and other alternatives to fossils. China is increasing its efforts to reduce air particulate matter and other fossil fuel toxins for instance with projects to convert coal and industrial waste gas into synthetic ethanol. The world’s first bio fermentation fuel ethanol production project using steel industry tail gas as raw material is located in Caofeidian.

Japan has set a target of 46% reduction in GHG emissions by 2030. In 2020, the country formulated a national strategy to transform its energy and industry structure and included the increased use of biofuel in the transport sector. The 6th Basic Energy Plan emphasises the importance of introducing biofuels, especially for advanced biofuels and SAF. Biofuels continue to be supported in Japan with a focus on the production from next generation technologies based on feedstocks that do not compete with food. Several joint research projects are ongoing and aiming to produce commercial-scale SAF from algae with the goal to commercialise these fuels by 2030. A national project (NEDO) has completed R&D of the pilot plant for the production of new-generation SAF at the gasification FT synthesis technology from wood cellulose. Furthermore, a brand new generation technology that uses microalgae was evaluated and verified. Together, both fuels met ASTM standards and completed SAF production. NEDO project is working on expanding the production volume.

European Commission:
The European Commission has promoted the production and use of sustainable and low-carbon fuels with the launch of different plans and packages (e.g. Fit-for-55, RePowerEU). The EU is world leader in advanced biofuels demo and first-of-a-kind plants while new technologies are ready to exploit the potential of waste and residue feedstocks. Considering the targets set by RepowerEU, the production for biomethane is expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. It will be fundamental to consider sustainable biomass to meet the growing demand.  

With regards to new pathways, a range of innovative technologies have been demonstrated at industrial scale and are ready for take-off such as biomass gasification, Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuels or bio-methanol production. Other innovative technologies are mostly at lab-scale such a solar fuels, novel thermochemical processes, microbial fuels,and micro-algae derived fuels.

Canada’s biofuels related policies include the federal Clean FuelsRegulations and various provincial policies together aiming to result in 26 MtCO2 -eq of GHG emission reduction by 2030 while a parallel credit market helps incentivising innovation and compliance. Noticeable projects are currently ongoing inCanada. Enerkem (Montreal-based) has developed and uses advanced biochemical processesto convert municipal solid waste, forestry and agricultural biomass into sustainable chemicals and advanced biofuels, including SAF. In addition, a biofuels facility is currently under construction in Varennes (Varennes Carbon Recycling) and is expected to be the largest biofuels facility in the country by 2025. The project aims to produce biofuels and renewable chemicals by transforming landfill waste and wood waste.  

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