There is more to biofuels than CO2 reduction

In 2014, the Swedish Energy Agency reported a greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 1.95 M tonnes of CO2-eq due to the replacement of fossil fuels with biofuels. However, a narrow focus on CO2 fails to capture the additional benefits biofuel production may have. Studies often indicate that agricultural and biomass production systems have the potential to provide considerable socio-economic benefits, but that the level of detail and clarity regarding benefits provided by expanded biomass production and biofuel process industries are insufficient. Further, the significant focus directed toward investigating the life cycle impacts and negative socio-economic effects of biofuel production tend to exclude, miss, or ignore additional benefits from the biofuel industry accrued in both environmental and socio-economic spheres.

This was the starting point for a now newly finished project within the f3 and Swedish Energy Agency collaborative research program Renewable transportation fuels and systems (Förnybara drivmedel och system). Project leader Michael Martin from IVL has worked together with participants from f3 partners Bio4Energy/LTU and Lund University to study the additional socio-economic benefits that also come from replacing fossil fuels with biofuels.

The project, titled Environmental and socio-economic benefits from Swedish biofuel production, has quantified and analyzed environmental benefits, and reviewed and documented socio-economic benefits of biofuel production in Sweden.The results from the environmental analysis provide evidence that failure to account for non-fuel related benefits from biofuel production leads to an underestimation of the potential for biofuels to contribute to GHG emission reductions when replacing fossil fuels due to the many valuable by-products and/or co-produced utilities with high fossil replacement potential. Prime examples of such being by-products from grain based ethanol production, biogas production digestate, and utility integration of lignocellulosic fuel production (such as gasification based fuels). With the current Swedish biofuel production portfolio, consideration of non-fuel related benefits could lead to 50% greater GHG emission savings, compared to when only considering the replaced fossil fuels. In the considered future fuel production mix scenarios the corresponding number could almost reach 90%, due to significantly increasing shares of biogas and lignocellulosic biofuels.

Results from the project will be presented in two scientific articles that are to be published. An additional supporting report that elaborates on the socio-economic benefits through a screening and review of job creation and assessment methods for other benefits is also under way. All publications will be listed on the f3 website when available. Until then, an extended summary report is available here.