Business and Society

Biofuel targets bad for the environment

August 30, 2011 | 1 min read

The use of biofuels is intended to save fossil fuels and limit the emission of greenhouse gases. Between 2001 and 2007 the annual production of bioethanol, a gasoline replacement, grew from 20 to 50 billion liters, while the annual production of biodiesel actually grew fivefold, from 0.8 to 4 billion liters.


However, the disadvantages of biofuel production are prompting rising protests against the 2020 targets. Besides causing food shortages — especially in countries already affected by widespread hunger — it also has a negative impact on biodiversity. This has led the EU to establish criteria for the sustainability of biofuel production.

The Tilburg University professor of environmental economics, Erwin Bulte, and his fellow researchers Prem Bindraban and Sjaak Conijn ofWageningen University, examined whether these EU criteria were realistic. They concluded that the production of biofuels on a large scale, as currently planned for 2020, is unsustainable.


Firstly, the researchers argue that the amount of currently available arable land will not yield adequate amounts of food for the rising world population in 2020, let alone biofuel crops. The cultivation of ‘second-generation’ biofuels (obtained from non-edible crops), currently promoted by governments all over the world, also requires much heavier investments than the cultivation of food crops does.


Secondly, the advantages of these biofuels are likely to be overshadowed within a few years by developments in other fields, such as solar and wind energy. The researchers also expect the development of electric and hydrogen-powered cars to make biofuels ultimately redundant. In the light of these conclusions they advise governments to refrain from the further stimulation of biofuel use.


This article may be reproduced according to our terms of use with attribution (and link, if online) to To be cited as: “Biofuel targets bad for the environment”, Erwin Bulte, Prem Bindraban, Sjaak Conijn,, August 30, 2011.

Read more

Paper ‘Can biofuels be sustainable by 2020?’


Erwin Bulte
Professor of Development Economics, Wageningen University

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