New report highlights Southeast Asia’s biofuels potential

Southeast Asia has considerable resources to produce liquid biofuels sustainably, using biomass feedstocks that would not cause carbon-dioxide emissions or interfere with food supply, according to a new report by the International Renewable Energy Association (IRENA).

Fulfilling the region’s biofuel potential would depend on increased residue collection from food crops and forest products, intensified cultivation of farmland, and reducing waste and losses in the food chain, according to the organisation.

IRENA’s report is entitled Biofuels potential in Southeast Asia.

Biofuel potential in Southeast Asia offers detailed estimates of biomass resource potential for Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. All five countries belong to both the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

According to IRENA, with conversion to advanced liquid biofuels, sustainable biomass feedstock could potentially cover two-fifths of the region’s projected needs for transport fuel if less were diverted to residential heating and cooking. According an assessment by the bioenergy team at IRENA advanced biofuels could provide as much as 7.3 exajoules of primary energy per annum in Southeast Asia by 2050, or half of the region’s total primary bioenergy potential.

The report states that volumes of lignocellulosic feedstocks for biofuels can be expanded through more systematic collection of agricultural residues, as well as through planting of grasses and trees on land made available through more intensive cultivation of croplands and reduced waste and losses in the food chain.

According to the report, if “these feedstocks were converted to advanced liquid biofuels using processes that are being demonstrated at commercial scale and becoming increasingly cost-competitive, advanced liquid biofuels could displace a significant share of petroleum-based transport fuel in the region”.

A variety of policies and measures could help to realise Southeast Asia’s biofuel potential: forest residue collection could be improved through more cost-effective logistics; modern farming techniques could improve agricultural yields; new agroforestry methods could help to cultivate a mix of high-yielding food and fuel crops; and more secure land tenure would encourage investment in more intensive land management. 

Losses and waste in the food chain, meanwhile, could be reduced through better harvesting techniques, storage and cooling facilities, packaging and transportation infrastructure, as well as better labels and more flexible regulation to ensure that wholesome food is not wasted or discarded, the organisation claimed.

Together, such measures could free a substantial amount of land to plant with bioenergy crops for biofuel.

The assessment builds on statistics from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

This story was written by Liz Gyekye, editor of Biofuels International. 

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