Synthesis bioenergy, sustainability and trade-offs: can we avoid deforestation while promoting biofuels?

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The World Exhibition held in Paris in 1900 demonstrated Rudolph Diesel's eponymous engine running on groundnut oil. Vegetable oils were used in diesel engines for the next 20 years before being replaced by cheaper fossil-fuel-derived alternatives (Smith and Searchinger 2012). Fluctuating oil prices, growing concerns about climate change and potential contributions to rural development have resulted in a more recent and growing interest in expanding the production and use of first-generation (1G) liquid biofuels from crops such as oil palm, sugar cane, soy and jatropha. Several countries have now established targets for biofuels as part of broader efforts to promote the production and use of renewable energy sources. The European Union's Renewable Energy Directive (EU RED), adopted in 2009, mandates each member state to ensure that at least 10% of fuel consumed in the transport sector is derived from renewable sources— including biofuels—by 2020 (see renewables/index_en.htm). The demand for land to expand the production of biofuel feedstocks grew throughout the period 2000 -2010. However, there were large variations by region and type of feedstock. Global production and trade in biofuels is currently dominated by Brazil, Argentina, USA and the European Union (Figure 1). Only 9% of vegetable oils produced globally are used to make biofuels (May-Tobin et al. 2012). An estimated 16% of biofuels produced in tropical regions were exported in 2009. However, in the same year, only 5% of oil palm production was used as feedstock for biofuels. Similarly, soy is grown predominantly for animal feed, with less than 15% by weight used in biofuel

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