Production Costs and Net Energy Balance of Liquid and Gaseous Biofuels: Some Regional Studies

Production Costs and Net Energy Balance of Liquid and Gaseous Biofuels: Some Regional Studies

Filippo Randelli (University of Florence, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-344-7.ch006


From the analysis carried out, it emerges that first generation biofuels don’t seem to be the best solution because of high production cost, limited land availability and low net energy balance. Furthermore, only a small quantity of biofuels can be produced as alternative to fossil oil because an incremental production will lead to the rising of agri-food prices. Biogas handling waste products can be a good opportunity in terms of net energy balance, in particular if we consider also targets within the EU on reducing the amounts of biodegradable waste going to landfills and/or incineration. Only second generation biofuels could be a possible solution, although they still require much supplementary research and analysis.
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For many centuries biomass has been the main energy resource all over the world. Since the industrial revolution, wood has been gradually replaced as fuel, first by coal and, later during the nineteenth century, by oil. Except for the period of crisis between 1973 and 1979, the price of oil has been kept low because of international political agreements. The price of oil below 20 dollars per barrel didn’t make the use of any other alternative energy resource realistic.

Starting in 2000, the situation changed and the price of oil reached 30 dollars per barrel in 2001 and in the first half of 2008, oil prices reached more than 110 dollars per barrel.

The last decade has brought forward another important issue which is pushing the global society to find solutions: the global warming. Climate has and always will vary for natural reasons. However, human activities are significantly increasing the concentrations of some gases in the atmosphere, such as greenhouse gases (mainly carbon dioxide or CO2), which tends to warm the earth’s surface. The concentration of carbon dioxide has increased by 31% since 1750 to a recent level which has not been exceeded for 20 million years. This increase is predominantly due to fossil fuel burning, but also to land-use change, especially deforestation.

In the UE, the Biofuels Directive (2003/30/EC of 8 May 2003) a 2% market share was targeted for biofuels in 2005 and a 5.75% share in 2010. For the EU the target would require 18.6 mtoe (million of tonnes) of biofuels by 2010. In 2000 biofuels contributed about 0.2% of energy, in terms of all fuels used in the EU. If Member States had achieved the national indicative targets they adopted under the Biofuel Directive, the contribution of biofuels would have reached 1.4% by 2005. Although the national targets are, on average, significantly lower than the reference value of 2% that the Directive laid down, some Member States have not met them. That’s the reason why on the 8th February 2006 the European Commission proposed to review the strategy for renewable energy from agriculture, because the targets (a 2% market share for biofuels in 2005 and a 5.75% share in 2010) will not be met with a biofuels directive as it stands now.

In Europe most biofuel used in transport is essentially sourced from biodiesel which accounts for 79.5% of the total energy content, as opposed to 19.3% for bioethanol. The vegetable oil fuel share is becoming negligible (0.9%) and for the moment the biogas fuel share is specific to one country – Sweden (0.3%) (Source: Eurobserv’er, 2010).

Biofuels production strategies and action plans in agriculture, to become operational and effective, have to take into account also the fact that rural areas in Europe are facing a period of great changes. Beside climate change, agricultural lands are also subjected to other drivers of change such as market globalisation, immigration, ageing populations, rural abandonment and unemployment. Rural areas are also facing new demands of goods and services by European citizens which are fostering the development of nature protection, tourism, recreation, maintenance of cultural identity. In the near future these drivers will have an impact on the economies of rural areas. Constraints and/or opportunities for the implementation of action plans to produce biofuels by agriculture may be different according to the response to these drivers of change by different rural realities.

In fact the main characteristic of contemporary European countryside is its environmental, social and economic diversity made up of very complex, dynamic and differentiated rural realities.

As a matter of fact, in previous decades, the national rural space put in place in the post-war period has given way to ‘regionalised ruralities’ in which differing combinations of networks (social, economic and environmental) come into being.

From an economic point of view two main characteristics define the complexity of the contemporary countryside’s economic structure:

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