Beyond Biofuel: Fighting Climate Change With “Best-Of-Breed” (CT Exclusive Interview)

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Nope, biofuel ain’t dead yet. A new global collaboration called below50 has just launched with the aim of prodding global companies to halve the carbon intensity of the transportation fuels they use, compared to conventional fossil fuel. The initiative includes a renewed emphasis on biofuel, along with any other top-of-the-line, non-fossil product that can get the job done, all embraced under the nameplate “low-carbon transportation fuels.”

EV fans may ask why electric vehicle technology doesn’t make the below50 cut, and that’s a fair question. Yesterday CleanTechnica got some answers from World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Chief Executive Officer Peter Bakker. Tomorrow we’ll also have some thoughts from Dr. Jennifer Holmgren, CEO of the next-next generation “biofuel” (to use that word loosely) company LanzaTech.

biofuel low carbon climate change

Biofuel And Anything Remotely Related To Biofuel

The below50 program launched as a “key outcome” of today’s Low Carbon Partnerships Initiative event, under the auspices of WBCSD, an A-list global partnership that accounts for more than $8.5 trillion among its members.

In the run-up to the historic COP21 Paris climate change agreement, WBCSD produced a study showing that the Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative as a whole could produce the 65% of carbon emission reductions necessary to keep us on a 2 degree pathway.

Concurrently, the International Energy Agency produced a study showing that in order to achieve a low carbon economy by 2030, the global use of low carbon transportation fuel must hit the 10 percent mark. The current level is only 3 percent.

That gap between today’s situation and the 2030 goal provided the platform and motivation for an action plan, and below50 is the action plan.

In an exclusive interview with CleanTechnica, Bakker explained the thought process behind this “unique collaboration.”

One of the foundational drivers behind below50 is the idea that, while EV tech may dominate the entire transportation market some time in the future, low-carbon fuels offer a near term solution that is already at hand. That’s especially in play for aviation and other high-performance uses:

We have not found one silver bullet for climate change…there will be many solutions.

You can deploy (low carbon fuels) with technology that exists today, and the infrastructure that exists today.

As below50 sees it, scaling up the market is the key challenge. He emphasized that the obstacles to low carbon transportation fuels are not technological:

What are the barriers to each solution? Finance, research and development, the creation of a market, policies…sustainable fuels are seeing all kinds of innovation, but we are not seeing a market.

And, Bakker emphasized that the field of low carbon transportation fuels embraces other technologies in addition to crop-based biofuel:

When we look at the different solutions, there wasn’t one voice supporting sustainable fuels…this is a unique global collaboration.

Who is below50?

The founding members of below50 include ABBI, Arizona State University, Audi, CGEE, Copersucar, DSM, DuPont, GranBio, the International Energy Agency (IEA), SkyNRG, Joule Unlimited, LanzaTech, LCFC, Novozymes, Pannonia, Poet, Red Rock Biofuels, RSB, SE4ALL and Yale University.

Members in below50 pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of the fuels they use by 50 percent, and below50 is designed as a resource platform to help them get there. Here’s a rundown from the press materials:

The campaign will centralize resources and dialogue; produce a go-to resource for regulators and policymakers; create a marketplace for companies across the supply chain; and host regional road shows to engage financers, policymakers and companies, as well as explore how to regionally scale sustainable fuel technology.

To ensure that below50 does not repeat the mistakes of first-generation biofuels, the initiative also works sustainable land use and food security into its program.

All Low-Carbon Fuel Is Local

If you caught that thing about “how to regionally scale,” that’s a critical issue for biofuel and other low carbon fuels. One key aspect of low carbon fuels is that they are only sustainable to the degree that they integrate with regional resources.

That provides some interesting opportunities. Here in the US, the Obama Administration has established a suite of biofuel research centers that pivot on regional conditions.

That, in case you’re wondering, is how a dry, red state like Arizona — headed by a carbon friendly Governor — managed to hop on board an important climate change initiative relating to biofuel, go ahead and give yourself a group hug. Back in 2012, US taxpayers shelled out $15 million through the Energy Department to launch a national algae biofuel test bed at Arizona State University, following up with another $8 million in 2013.

Another example is provided by our friends over at Masdar City. Masdar is not among the inaugural below50 members, but the state-supported investment agency of Dubai has launched an integrated, low carbon demonstration system for desalinating water, raising fish, and producing aviation biofuel in the desert.

Tomorrow we’ll follow up with a rundown of LanzaTech’s very different kind of regional solution from Dr. Holmgren.


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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