With the biofuel world in upheaval over the dubious energy costs of crop-based biofuels, the U.N. has put forward a new tool to assess the global potential capacity of sustainably grown bioenergy. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has unveiled a bioenergy assessment tool, and it could help developing nations tap into the exploding international biofuel market without compromising their own food-producing abilities.
Ethanol has come under heavy environmental and humanitarian scrutiny because ethanol producers have been cutting down forests in developing countries to grow more feedstock while developed countries, notably the U.S., have been putting a substantial amount of their subsidized grain into biofuel production. The sudden and unplanned convergence of the world’s food and fuel supplies has many worried about the stability of the global food supply.
It is precisely the potential for biofuel production to become a boon for developing economies looking to boost their export economies that makes this new tool potentially so valuable. A mathematical modeling tool developed at Utrecht University’s Copernicus Institute and Darmstadt’s Oeko-Institut, it uses a bottom-up approach, first calculating the land requirements of food, fiber, fodder and forest for the growing population, then calculating the remaining land that can sustainably be used for bioenergy.
This framework builds on the FAO’s agricultural modeling tool, COSIMO, accessible via website to national administrators. While it’s not clear how this new tool will be made available, the FAO intends to make it available to the international community for governments to use as a “decision-support tool.” The tool will first be tested in Peru, Thailand and Tanzania with FAO scientists.
The FAO’s new analytical framework could provide far more rigorous statistical analysis of the international bioenergy market, which has grown extremely quickly and relatively unchecked. It could give insight to startups and venture capitalists into what parts of globe have the most potential for bioenergy production. If the trial run of the economic tool proves successful it could help guide investment money to high potential areas of the globe ready to develop their biofuel opportunity.