Global biofuel production is expected to rise from 1.3 million barrels per day in 2010 to 2.7 million barrels per day in 2030, according to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration forecast released Wednesday.
But other biofuel-related news that also broke Wednesday indicates that more than doubling the world's biofuel supply in 20 years won't be easy.
Oxfam International, a global nonprofit focused on reducing poverty, fanned the flames of the food vs. fuel debate with a study blaming biofuels for contributing up to a 30 percent increase in global food prices.
Meanwhile, ethanol producer VeraSun Energy (NYSE:VSE) announced it was going to delay the start up of a 110-million-gallon-per-year factory in Hankinson, N.D. It’s the third plant this month that the company said would be delayed.
Companies have announced a series of cancellations and postponements amid economic difficulties as the cost of the materials used to make biofuels have grown faster than biofuels prices (see Mascoma to Play Smaller Role in Pilot Project, Plans for Two Cellulosic-Ethanol Plants Scrapped, Another Ethanol Plant Gets Cancelled, Poet Cancels Ethanol Plant, Ethanol Margins Suffer, Ethanol’s Tough Times Continue).
Despite the fierce public skepticism and company hardships that have impacted the biofuel industry, the Energy Information Administration said biofuels will become an increasingly important source of alternative energy.
The federal agency also predicted that the United States will account for almost one-half of the rise in world biofuel production, making up 1.2 million barrels per day in 2030.
The federal agency's latest forecast is quite a jump from previous estimates of 1.7 million barrels per day of biofuel production by 2030, according to Reuters.
The U.S. adopted an energy policy in December that requires fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel in 2022 (see President Signs Energy Bill).
Oxfam blames such mandates for contributing to food insecurity and inflation. As a result, wealthy countries like the United States are to be blamed for pushing more than 30 million people into poverty, according to the organization's study, "Another Inconvenient Truth."
During the last year, various studies have examined the impact of biofuels on food and on the environment (see Lester Brown Talks Smack About Ethanol). Among the most damning were studies published in the Science journal, which concluded that biofuels may cause more greenhouse gas emissions than traditional fuels.
On the flip side, researchers have also found biofuels aren't at fault for driving food costs up or wreaking havoc on the environment.<
In April, researchers at Texas A&M University published a study that found that prices of corn, a key ingredient for making ethanol in the United States, have little do with rising food costs.
On Wednesday, the Carnegie Institution for Science chimed in with another study that supports biofuels, which found that fuel crops could grow on discarded farmland.
The institute's researchers estimate that up to 1.8-million-square miles of abandoned lands globally are potentially available for growing energy crops.
The greatest amount of such land is in the United States, Brazil and Australia, according to the study.
Gulf Ethanol Corp., which trades over the counter under the ticker "GFET.PK," said Wednesday it has built a research and design facility dedicated to improving the delivering of feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production.
Cellulosic ethanol is made from nonfood biomass like switchgrass, wood chips and corncobs. Figuring out how to gather, store and transport cellulosic feedstock is among the challenges of making cellulosic ethanol (see Q&A: Harvesting Cellulosic Ethanol).
Advocates contend that cellulosic ethanol could one day solve the "food vs. fuel" issue and enable ethanol to grow dramatically.
But cellulosic-ethanol companies have had their share of difficulties, too (see Plans for Two Cellulosic-Ethanol Plants Scrapped).