Environmental groups slam UN’s biofuels report

The Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation organisation, and seven other groups have urged the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to withdraw, what they describe as, a misleading and inaccurate report on second-generation biofuels.

In a letter to the UN organisation, the groups wrote that “the report contains so many factual inaccuracies and misleading claims that its conclusion must be withdrawn.”

The report, which was released in early 2016, is entitled 'Second-Generation Biofuel Markets: State of Play, Trade and Developing Country Perspectives'. It concludes these biofuels are a “commercial reality” and a good investment for developing nations.

According to the environmental groups, the UNCTAD report includes “many serious errors, including a list of ‘second-generation’ biofuel plants that is actually composed of facilities that have never produced such fuels, have yet to operate successfully, or have stopped operations. One company touted by the report has declared bankruptcy”.

“We are deeply concerned that developing countries’ governments could be misled by UNCTAD’s flawed report that claims that second-generation biofuels are commercially viable when current evidence shows that they clearly are not,” said Almuth Ernsting, co-director of UK-based organisation Biofuelwatch. “In the worst case, under-resourced countries could end up wasting scarce public funding on technologies which have no track record of working.”

“The UN’s error-filled biofuels report threatens our climate by pushing a dirty, unproven technology that could undermine truly promising clean-energy sources,” said Kevin Bundy, a Center senior attorney. “We expect better from the United Nations. The report must be withdrawn.”

'Factual inaccuracies'

In a statement, the groups say that their letter highlights “the report’s factual inaccuracies”. The report claims, for example, that over 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced in the United States in 2014. According to US Environmental Protection Agency data, however, just over 2 million gallons were produced.

The report also lists 10 “second-generation” biofuel production plants with "the highest capacity.” Of those 10, however, seven never produced any second-generation fuels; one began production but then shut down three months prior to publication of the report; one continues to be plagued by problems and has yet to operate successfully; and the last never operated successfully and appears to have been shut down.

The report also highlights the GreenSky London project announced by British Airways in 2010, which aimed to refine municipal solid waste into aviation fuel using Solena’s technology. Solena filed for bankruptcy in the Maryland Bankruptcy Court in October 2015. Following Solena’s bankruptcy petition, British Airways officially abandoned the GreenSky London project.

Independent research conducted by Biofuelwatch also found at least five commercial-scale ”second-generation” biofuel refineries in the US which have failed to produce fuels due largely due to problems with the technologies involved.

The organisations signing the letter include Biofuelwatch, Center for Biological Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity, ETC Group, Friends of the Earth U.S., the Global Justice Ecology Project, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the International Center for Technology Assessment.

As Biofuels International went to press this morning, UN representatives were not available for comment.