Biofuels & bioenergy


‘good’ biofuels OR ‘bad’ Biofuels?
‘good bioenergy’ or ‘bad bioenergy’?

How can you tell them apart and how can you configure your business to ensure that you only access the ‘good’ and have the capacity to reject the ‘bad’?

We combine world-leading analytical (quantitative) life-cycle assessment capabilities to assess the direct (impacts that can be attributed to a specific product) and indirect (consequential impacts of changes in demand for one commodity on competitor and substitute products).
Examples of our work and thinking can be seen in the presentations at the links here:

The first is a link to a presentation given at the Royal Society, by one of our directors, Dr Jeremy Woods, exploring the opportunities and threats of sustainable biofuel systems. 

The second is s link to a paper co-authored by Dr Woods, published by the Royal Society exploring the conflicts and potential synergies between increased biomass production and the food system.

These are just two examples of the kind of work we do in the biomass and biofuel sustainability space, and give a insight into the ways we are able to progress the thinking on these complex issues.

What is bioenergy?
The supply of modern energy carriers and services based on the conversion of biomass (any form of non-fossilised organic material). The energy services can be classified into the provision of:

1. Rotary power e.g. for transport or electricity generation
2. Light
3. Heating & cooling

Biomass feedstocks for bioenergy production are very diverse (agriculture and forestry residues, recovered biomass-rich materials e.g. recycled wood, sawdust, sewage, animal dung, etc; by- and co-products from the food industry; dedicated energy crops; and …)

What are biofuels?
The term biofuels has come to mean the conversion of biomass to provide the energy for mobility (transport fuels). These fuels are generally liquid fuels that can relatively easily fit into the existing delivery and end use infrastructure of transport and so can be blended (up to pre-defined limits) with conventional gasoline (petrol) and diesel. Gaseous fuels can also be derived from biomass generally in the form of biogas derived from the anaerobic digestion of organic wastes.

What is biomass?
The fundamental basis of all biomass is photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the mechanism by which all plants intercept the energy of sunlight (solar radiation) and use it to split water and fix carbon dioxide to create the carbon and energy rich molecules that form the basis of all life, the ‘biomass’.

We define ‘biomass’ to be the basic feedstock that can be used to provide any of the three major energy services or combinations of the three. More recently, in certain countries, ‘biomass’ has been loosely used to mean the use of solid biomass feedstocks for the provision of electricity or heat.  In addition to energy, or separately from energy, the different forms of biomass are used to provide, food, structural materials and chemicals.  Substantial efficiency gains are possible when biomass supply chains are configured to provide multiple products, the so-called ‘biorefinery’ rather than as single product pathways. Much of our work is aimed at understanding how business can access these efficiency gains for the delivery of multiple benefits including, reduced costs, lower environmental impacts and enhanced social impacts.

These benefits can include more efficient land use to combine energy and food security, low greenhouse gas emission pathways that might be combined with enhanced carbon storage and use options that are development compatible.