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Plants at the Pump

Biofuels, Climate Change, and Sustainability

Examines the feasibility of achieving significant emissions reductions from the proliferation of biofuels and concludes that biofuels are not a complete, nor even the primary, solution to our transport fuel needs.

Executive Summary

Biofuels are being heralded as an alternative to oil that can be grown by farmers across the globe, addressing many of the economic, security, and environmental concerns associated with oil dependence. The story is not that simple, however, because the life-cycle energy efficiency and environmental impacts of biofuels varies significantly depending on feedstocks, production methods, and scale.

Plants at the Pump examines the feasibility of achieving significant emissions reductions from the proliferation of biofuels. First, it explores the challenges raised by today’s production and distribution technologies. It then turns to current biofuels policies and their environmental impacts, both positive and negative. The next section looks at how these policies drive investment, and argues that some technology incentives will make rapid scale-up of next-generation biofuels particularly challenging.

The report concludes that biofuels are not a complete, nor even the primary, solution to our transport fuel needs. They have the potential to play some role in meeting future energy demands. But since large-scale carbon displacement would require significant destruction of global forests, the benefits of biofuels would likely be outweighed by the costs with respect to forestry, agriculture markets, and economic hardship for the world’s poor.

This report is part of an ongoing collaboration between WRI and the Goldman Sachs Center for Environmental Markets.

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