In 2007, the European Council fixed at 10 % the share of biofuels that must be incorporated into the EU transport fuel sector by 2020. This target, which is binding for all Member States expresses a minimum aim. By 2030, the Biofuels European Technology Platform considers that up to one quarter of EU transport fuel consumption could be met by biofuels.
Today most biofuels on the market are commonly referred as “first generation biofuels”. These are ethanol (made from sugarcane in Brazil, corn in the US and beet or wheat in Europe) and diesel (made from oilseed rape in France and Germany and from palm oil in some other countries of the world). Importantly, first generation biofuels are made from the feedstocks that form intrinsic parts of the food chain.
In Europe, biofuel production has risen steeply over the last few years. The main product is biodiesel, which reflects the predominance of diesel motors in the European automobile fleet. In contrast, on a global scale, bioethanol is the major biofuel. In 2007, the global biofuels market consisted of approximately 85% bioethanol and 15% biodiesel.
In addition to bioethanol and biodiesel, other fuels such as pure vegetable oil and biogas are used for transport, although to a more limited extent.
Although the production of first generation biofuels is characterized by mature commercial markets and well understood technologies, they are associated with several drawbacks. They contribute to higher food prices, due to the use of food crops, provide only limited greenhouse gas reduction benefits, accelerate the destruction of primary forests (in the case of palm oil and sugarcane) and have a potentially negative impact on biodiversity.
Many of these problems can be addressed by the production of “second generation” biofuels manufactured from agricultural and forest residues and from non-food crop feedstocks.
Second generation biofuels are not yet an industrial reality, although some processes are now close to the market. Nevertheless, cost reductions and increased production efficiency are still needed to allow the second generation biofuels industry to flourish.
To address these issues, significant investment in R&D is being made. In particular the European Commission is funding cutting edge research in this area and is supporting the financing of pilot and demonstration scale studies. The project BIOCORE is one of three biorefinery projects that the EC has funded with the 7th framework programme scheme. A major thrust of BIOCORE is to provide new innovation in 2nd generation biofuels, especially through of an integrated biorefinery concept.