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World Biofuel event underway in Rotterdam


Celestine Cheong

“The bio-economy has reached a tipping point,” – Petri Vasara, Pöyry Global Futures

During the 2013 World Biofuels Markets Exhibition and Congress, there have been many exchanges about the role of biofuels in achieving global energy security.

This culminated during the plenary keynote session where eight speakers from the finance, non-governmental organisations, security and energy industry, discussed this and other issues crucial to the success of the biofuels industry.

The efficacy of using biofuels in comparison to unsustainable fossil fuels and the biofuels industry’s capacity to cut emissions and avert catastrophic global warming also featured largely in the debate.

With regards to land and sustainable agriculture, Sir Jonathan Porritt, Founder Director from Forum of the Future, commented that “the world urgently needs a huge thriving biofuels industry. Most of us are largely in denial of the implications of climate change” about the rhetoric emanating from the agriculture wake.

There was disagreement around the land available globally, with NATO General Wesley Clark taking a positive stance and claiming that there is “a billion acres of unused cropland in the world”:

However, Petri Vasara, Director of Pöyry Global BioFutures, cautioned against such assumptions, noting that the “lack of land is the real battleground. The strongest land requirement is in Asia but more modest in Russia and the USA. Land requirement for cattle grazing dominates in all regions bar North America”.

Author and television presenter, Jonathan Dimbleby, who chaired the talks on the uptake of biofuels practices, opted for a consensus amongst the floor on land use, to which almost all in attendance agreed that it was an issue.

Water Crisis

Water usage for biofuels must be viewed in relative rather than absolute terms. The contrast between fracking and biofuels, whereby significant amounts of water are used and waste water produced in the fracking process, was highlighted by NATO’s General Clark; “the challenge is that the resulting contaminated water used in fracking requires more energy to treat."

Poyry’s Petri Vasara also commented that “the world is in bigger trouble with water than with carbon emissions.”

In-fighting

Other discussions included the lobbying between the oil and biofuels industry, which suggests that the oil industry is stifling growth in this emerging energy sector. “The oil and gas industry is a problem for the biofuels industry,” said Jonathon Porritt.

“You're up against massive lobbying from the oil industry. Both industries need to band together and stop fighting each other.” General Clark added, referring to the two contrasting energy industries.

By contrast, Philip New, CEO of BP Biofuels, had a different opinion, as stated during an earlier interview that it was “unhelpful to cast these industries into good guys and bad guys. We will be seeing both industries work together whether people like it or not”.

Challenges

Other discussions focused on the added value biofuels have both at the domestic and international level, which continues to be misunderstood by the general public.

“The bio-economy has reached a tipping point,” said Mr. Vasara on the perceived mistrust within the biofuels industry, where transparency has a direct relevance on market share. “Societal acceptance is key.”

Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director, International Energy Agency said that demand and growth for biofuels cannot be taken for granted and that there is a need for a gradual shift to new technology. “We need national and international certification schemes,” Ms. Hoeven said on improving the links between feedstock and legislation.

Future political will

The keynote speakers teamed up to agree that Europe needs to look to the US model to encourage growth in the biofuels industry.

“There is a lot of political support for these endeavours, which is lacking in Europe,” said General Clark. “The US should be seen as the model to strive towards.”

BP Biofuels’ CEO said that EU regulation is uncertain on biofuels and investor confidence, which is already fragile, has been marred by regulator uncertainty. But the biofuels industry needs to lean away from blaming markets or regulation and focus on producing a track record to assist with future investment.

On the measures of attracting finance, Citigroup, Managing Director and Global Head of Environment Finance, Michael Eckhart, said that new banking regulation will push away high risk and lower market volatility.

According to Hans Smits, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Rotterdam, seaports like the port of Rotterdam will be prime locations where the US can benefit from a bio-based economy in the EU owing to the free trade agreement between the US and Europe, as influenced by a trend for shale gas in the US.

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