MUNICH (Reuters) - New-generation biofuels will come from a wide range of sources and no single feedstock may dominate, a conference on second generation biofuels organized by German commodity analysts F.O. Licht heard on Friday.
Non-food plants and crops mentioned at the conference as possibilities for use in future biofuels range from corn husks, grasses and algae to jatropha oilseeds, tree bark and twigs.
First generation green fuels aimed at reducing global warming are largely produced from foods such as corn, sugar and vegetable oils and face hot but unresolved controversy about whether biofuel production raises food prices.
The second generation of biofuels will be produced from non-food crops and the conference of global biofuels executives heard that the choices for new generation feedstocks were still wide open.
F.O. Licht managing director Christoph Berg said it was possible that a wide range of differing second generation feedstocks could be used in different parts of the world.
The coming five to ten years could also see a competition to select the complex technology needed to produce the new fuels, Berg said. It was not clear at this stage whether a single technology would emerge.
“The raw material base for next generation biofuels is more diverse than in the case of starch-based or sugar based ethanol,” Berg said. “Current U.S. demonstration units use wheat straw and corn residue in the Midwest, sugar cane bagasse (refinery waste) in the south and wood waste in the Pacific Northwest and South East.”
“I believe this has large potential but I think a lot of other feedstocks will also develop, I do not think we will see a single type dominating,” said senior UPM-Kymmene executive Hans Sohlstrom. UPM-Kymmene is a Finnish papermaker.
Governments hope conflict with food can be avoided by producing more biofuels from low grade crops such as grasses.
Yet some observers argue that most energy crops will involve some kind of competition with food production.
Farmers would need a good reason to grow low cost energy crops when they could earn more from food crops such as wheat or corn, stressed Kyle Althoff, feedstock development manager at DuPont Danisco Cellulosic Ethanol, a biofuel joint venture between U.S. group Dupont and Denmark’s Danisco.
It was still unclear how massive volumes of corn cobs or other farm waste could be collected for biofuel when farmers were busy harvesting millions of tonnes of corn, Althoff said.
Jacques Blondy, head of biofuels for French oil group Total, said second generation biofuels will have to prove themselves.
They fuels would have to show a technical performance equivalent to fossil fuels, offer improved carbon dioxide savings and come from abundant and cheap biomass to make them sustainable and competitively-priced without subsidies, Blondy said.
Editing by Keiron Henderson