Knowledge for Development

Relevant publications

Sugarcane bioethanol: Environmental implications

An article in Global Change Biology Bioenergy assessed the net greenhouse gas savings of bioethanol from sugarcane as compared to the use of fossil fuels. Researchers have long promoted biofuels produced from crop biomass as an environmentally sustainable source of renewable energy but rarely questioned whether the potential climate benefit of sugarcane ethanol is diminished when emissions from land use management are considered. Scientists examined the sugarcane ethanol production systems to identify sources of greenhouse gas emissions. They found that land use change, fertilization, residue burning, and tillage had the largest impact on greenhouse gas emissions. In order to maximize greenhouse gas savings, Dr. Cardoso Lisboa and coauthors suggest changes at all stages of the sugarcane production. For example, simultaneous provision of irrigation water and fertilizer would allow the reduction of fertilizer rates in sugarcane production systems. Furthermore, the conversion from pre-harvest burning to no- or minimum-tillage systems with mechanized harvest may better maintain or even increase soil C and N stocks.(Source: Alphagalileo, 2 Mar. 2011)


Biofuels: review of policies and impacts

University of California, Berkeley, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, CUDARE Working Papers No. 1119.This paper provides an overview of the environmental, economical, and policy considerations related to biofuels. While the biofuel production and consumption exhibited significant increase over the first decade of the new millennium, this and further increases in biofuel production are driven primarily by government policies. Currently available first generation biofuels are with a few exceptions not economically viable in the absence of fiscal incentives or high oil prices. Also the environmental impacts of biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels are quite ambiguous. The review of the most recent economic models dealing with biofuels and their economic impacts provides a distinction between structural and reduced form models. The review of reduced models is structured toward the time series analysis approach to the dependencies between prices of feedstock, biofuels, and fossil fuels.


Research investments and market structure in the food processing, agricultural input and biofuel industries worldwide

K. Fuglie, et al. USDA Economic Research Report No. 147. 12/2011.Meeting growing global demand for food, fibre and biofuel requires robust investment in agricultural research and development (R&D) from both public and private sectors. This study examines global R&D spending by private industry in seven agricultural input sectors, food manufacturing, and biofuel and describes the changing structure of these industries. In 2007 (the latest year for which comprehensive estimates are available), the private sector spent $19.7 billion on food and agricultural research (56 percent in food manufacturing and 44 percent in agricultural input sectors) and accounted for about half of total public and private spending on food and agricultural R&D in high-income countries. In R&D related to biofuel, annual private-sector investments are estimated to have reached $1.47 billion worldwide by 2009. Incentives to invest in R&D are influenced by market structure and other factors. Agricultural input industries have undergone significant structural change over the past two decades, with industry concentration on the rise. A relatively small number of large, multinational firms with global R&D and marketing networks account for most R&D in each input industry. Rising market concentration has not generally been associated with increased R&D investment as a percentage of industry sales.


Releasing the Pressure: Water Resource Efficiencies and Gains for Ecosystem Services

This report by UNEP and SEI discusses the need to balance short-term water productivity gains, particularly in agriculture, with water flows’ long-term role in maintaining sustainable landscape ecosystem services and supporting human well-being. The report outlines 10 key messages on the nexus of water productivity, water flows in landscapes and ecosystem services, and illustrates them with case studies. It is geared to practitioners in the areas of planning and management of agriculture, planning of land-use, forestry, biofuels, and water, and natural resource management. The goal is to encourage practitioners to begin exploring what types of ecosystem services gains and trade-offs exist in their local context, such as watersheds, landscapes, countries, or basins, and how they may be linked to the allocation of water.(SEI via EcoAgriculture Blog, 28/5/2012)


Sugarcane-Based Bioethanol – Energy for Sustainable Development

From a variety of perspectives, this work presents the characteristics of sugarcane-based biofuel and the agribusiness that surrounds it; particular emphasis is made on the Brazilian experience and, in some cases, comparisons are made with other bioenergy technologies. The book is divided into nine chapters and is aimed at Brazilians and readers from other countries who are interested in bioethanol and bioenergy.


German researchers hand biofuels a poor review

Germany's National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina has come down firmly against the use of crops for energy. In a report issued by a panel of more than 20 experts who have been working together since 2010, the academy concludes that biofuels should play only a small part in the move toward sustainable sources of energy. Biofuels use more land area, generate more greenhouse gas emissions, and have a greater impact on the environment than other alternative energy sources such as photovoltaic solar energy, solar thermal energy, or wind power. Biofuel crops may also find themselves competing with food crops for valuable land.(ScienceInsider, 26/7/2012)


The impact of first-generation biofuels on the depletion of the global phosphorus reserve

The large majority of biofuels to date is ‘first-generation’ biofuel made from agricultural commodities. All first-generation biofuel production systems require phosphorus (P) fertilisation. P is an essential plant nutrient, yet global reserves are finite. Researchers Lars Hein and Rik Leemans (from the Environmental Systems Analysis Group, Wageningen UR) here argue that committing scarce P to biofuel production involves a trade-off between climate change mitigation and future food production. They examine biofuel production from seven types of feedstock, and find that biofuels at present consume around 2 % of the global inorganic P fertiliser production.For all examined biofuels, with the possible exception of sugarcane, the contribution to P depletion exceeds the contribution to mitigating climate change. The relative benefits of biofuels can be increased through enhanced recycling of P, but high increases in P efficiency are required to balance climate change mitigation and P depletion impacts. The authors conclude that, with the current production systems, the production of first-generation biofuels compromises food production in the future.[Lars Hein (WUR) and Rik Leemans. AMBIO. 2012. Vol 41. No. 4. 341-349]


Two new reports by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE)

‘Biofuels and food security’ and ‘Investing in smallholder agriculture for food security’ have been published in June 2013. Recommendations on future public policies regarding biofuel  production and on investment strategies that include smallholders are drafted in the respective HLPE reports. Regarding biofuels, the HLPE recommends that governments must adjust  biofuel policies and devise mechanisms to prevent (market-driven) biofuel demands posing a threat to food security from price rises and diminishing access to land and associated resources  for food. In terms of investment strategies, the report recommends governments should design and implement medium- and long-term strategies, with the accompanying set of policies and  budgets, to increase the capacity of the smallholder sector to fulfil its multifunctional roles in national development.(FAO HLPE, 06/2013)


Scoping report on biofuels projects in five developing countries

This report by ODI, UK, summarises the results of scoping exercises carried out in early 2013 into the status of biofuel projects in five countries: Ethiopia, Indonesia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia. These scoping exercises were undertaken to determine: (i) Whether countries which are commonly referred to as important for biofuel production have seen proportionate levels of biofuel project activity; and (ii) if so, whether projects have reached a stage at which it is possible to assess the impacts of biofuel projects on local food security. The report concludes that in the four African countries, there is little basis to comprehensively investigate the possible effects of increased biofuel production on food security. What could be further researched is the impact of the displacement of people and their agricultural activities, which often occurs as part of biofuel projects. It is too early to know whether the contraction in biofuels project development is indicative of a temporary setback or whether it is of a more permanent nature. However, the number of projects which have already ceased their operations and the time required for new projects to start up operations indicate that production will not reach significant levels in the four African countries anytime soon.    (ODI, 05/2013)


Best practice innovation policy for emerging renewable energy technologies

This report presents international best practice for strategic innovation policy delivery, synthesising proven methods from around the world. It also makes new recommendations to improve the delivery of on-going policy tools, focusing on reducing risk for private sector investment earlier along the innovation chain, and pursuing an increasingly international innovation policy. By following these principles, governments could unlock renewable energy technology deployment at lowest cost and also enhance technology driven economic growth and exports. The report prepared by the Carbon Trust and supported by Element Energy, involved extensive input through workshops and interviews with leading international policymakers and industry experts.   (IEA-RETD, 09/2014)


Understanding the water-food-energy nexus in the context of climate change

Energy, water and food resource systems are fundamentally interrelated but to date the three resource systems have mostly been organised and studied separately. A 'nexus approach', a multidisciplinary type of analysis of the relationship between energy, water and food, can help to reduce trade-offs and to build synergies across these three sectors. Produced by the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), this report reviews the current thinking on the 'energy-water-food Nexus' and the water-energy interrelationship to provide relevant information for local and regional decision-makers responsible for development and implementation of policies related to energy and water resource systems.   (ECN, 08/2014)


Bioenergy, food security and poverty reduction: Mitigating trade-offs and promoting synergies along the water-energy-food security nexus

An analytical framework to assess the track record of policy actions to encourage modern bioenergy innovation in order to achieve multiple-win outcomes in terms of poverty alleviation, improved health, gender empowerment and environmental sustainability is presented. Modern bioenergy is a core ingredient of sustainable economic development and could play an important role in poverty reduction and green growth. Managing the multiple trade-offs among bioenergy use, agricultural productivity, and ecosystem functions is a major development challenge. According to Alisher Mirzabaev and colleagues of the Center for Development Research (ZEF), Germany, addressing this challenge requires the identification of the drivers, trade-offs and impacts of bioenergy production, trade and use in the water-energy-food security nexus.   (ZEF, 08/2014)