Waste not want not: Understanding the greenhouse gas implications of diverting waste and residual materials to biofuel production

Published: 2017.08.24

Dr. Chris Malins, Cerulogy

It has become generally accepted that biofuels produced from food commodity crops cause indirect land use change (ILUC) when increased demand for those crops results in an increase in global cultivation area. Indirect emissions can also result from the use of waste and residual materials for biofuel production. For example, fatty acid distillates from palm oil refining are currently utilized in applications including oleochemicals, soaps, and animal feeds. If these materials were instead used for biofuel production, other materials would take their place in those primary applications. This may create increased demand for palm and other oils, resulting in increased GHG emissions from the production of these feedstocks.

In November 2016, the European Commission proposed a revision to the Renewable Energy Directive for the period 2020 to 2030, under which biofuels from materials that might be characterized as wastes and/or residues would play a major role, on the presumption that using these materials would deliver better environmental outcomes than using food crops. This consultant report by Cerulogy assesses the indirect emissions implications of producing biofuels from some of the materials listed in the proposal, and of some that may be proposed as additions to the proposal as it is discussed in the European Council and Parliament. This study finds that indirect emissions are likely to be significant in most cases and can fundamentally change our understanding of the full climate impacts of using these materials for biofuels.

Staff contact: Stephanie Searle