Mitigating bio-energy-food nexus pressures

Countries around the world are beginning to transition away from fossil fuel-based economies towards bio-economies that use biological sources, materials and processes to achieve sustainable economic, social and environmental development. One of the main activities in a bio-economy is the production of bio-energy, which is energy produced from organic matter or biomass. The most common form of bio-energy is bio-fuels (combustible materials directly or indirectly derived from biomass including crops and other plant materials). Bio-fuels come in three main forms:

  • Liquid bio-fuels, including bio-ethanol and bio-diesel, are generally used for transport
  • Bio-gases are used for stationary applications including electricity generation
  • Solid bio-fuels are used for electricity generation and heating

There are numerous benefits associated with bio-fuels including:

  • Increased diversity and security of energy supplies
  • Most nations can produce their own bio-fuels from agriculture, forestry and urban waste, reducing the need to import fossil fuels
  • Bio-fuel production can increase rural economies
  • Bio-fuels replace fossil fuels, reducing greenhouse gas emissions
Bio-fuels can limit energy-food nexus pressures

Bio-fuels can limit energy-food nexus pressures

Bio-energy-food nexus pressures

With scarce land required to feed an increasing global population – the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) projects that to feed 9 billion people by 2050 agricultural production needs to increase by 60% compared to 2007 levels – there is potential for bio-energy and bio-fuel production to trigger global food insecurity. To reduce energy-food nexus pressures, countries are beginning to implement policies that reduce these pressures.

In Germany, bio-energy already accounts for 6.8% of gross electricity consumption and is the second-most important renewable energy source behind wind-power (7.7%). Bio-energy plays a vital role in supplementing wind power as it is reliably produced from solid, liquid or gaseous biomass and therefore can be switched on or off to balance out fluctuations in wind power. To reduce energy-food nexus pressures the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture is drawing up a plan for limiting non-agricultural claims to agricultural land. In addition, the Government will review funding support for bio-energy, ensuring projects limit competition among uses of land.

Denmark’s National Bio-economy Panel, formed by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, announced that 1.5 million tons of surplus straw each year can be used as raw material for bio-fuels e.g. bio-ethanol. This will support the Government’s adoption of a national 2.5% blending mandate for bio-fuels. This mandate will apply until 2030 from which a further review will be conducted for 2031 onwards.

The take-out

To limit bio-energy-food nexus pressures governments can fund bio-energy projects that limit land competition and provide a regulatory framework for surplus organic waste to be used in bio-fuels.

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Author: Robert C. Brears

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