Global developments in the competition for land from biofuels
The potential global demand for biofuels and the implications of this for land use and its interaction with food agriculture is reviewed. It is expected that biofuels will form an important element of global transport energy mix (in the order of 20-30% of total requirement) over the next 40 years and beyond. Over this time, there will be a transition from so called first generation biofuels, based on commodity agricultural crops with food/feed uses, to advanced biofuels, sometimes called second and third generation biofuels, based primarily upon lignocellulosic feedstocks. It remains unclear whether these advanced biofuels, based on lignocellulosic materials, will entirely replace first generation or if second generation will be supplemental to first generation. This expansion in biofuels will be coupled to a substantial increase in alternative fuels (electricity, hydrogen, biogas and natural gas) and modal shifts. Biofuel production from agricultural commodity crops that exhibit strong sustainability criteria will remain important (e.g. sugarcane) with supportive and competitive aspects for food security. Land requirement projections estimated for a range of potential biofuel development trajectories range widely and are inherently uncertain. Under the most active scenario that delivers substantive greenhouse gas reductions in transport by 2050 (relative to 2005 levels), approximately 100 Mha of additional land is projected. In the 'business-as-usual' scenario, in which transport energy demand rises by 80% by 2050 from present levels, a land use requirement of 650 Mha is projected. Significant potential exists for producing biofuels that possess high productivity and sustainability profiles through continued research, development and demonstration. Policy and regulation at a global level, that focuses biofuel development on these goals in ways that are synergistic with food agriculture, will simultaneously help to decarbonise transport and maintain a diverse and financially robust agricultural (and forestry) sector.
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