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Market Snapshot: Biofuels

While it may seem like anything can be turned into renewable energy these days, biomass is unique in that it can be converted directly into liquid fuels, called biofuels to help meet transportation fuel needs. The two most common types of biofuels in use today are ethanol and biodiesel, these are also known as “drop-in” fuels, meaning they can serve as petroleum substitutes in existing refineries, tanks, pipelines, pumps, vehicles, and smaller engines.

According to BCC Research, the global liquid biofuels market should reach $153.8 billion by 2024 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.2% for the forecast period of 2019 to 2024. The following sections break this broader market down into the markets for ethanol and biodiesel.

Ethanol is an alcohol most commonly made by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates through a process similar to beer brewing, but it can also be produced by a process called gasification, which uses high temperatures and a low-oxygen environment to convert biomass into synthesis gas, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. The resulting synthesis gas (syngas) can then be chemically converted into ethanol and other fuels. Typically, ethanol is used as a blending agent with gasoline to increase octane and cut down carbon monoxide and other smog-causing emissions. MarketsandMarkets reports that the global bioethanol market is projected to grow from $33.7 billion in 2020 to $64.8 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 14.0%, from 2020 to 2025. Demand for bioethanol is driven by the mandatory use of bioethanol fuel blends in many countries to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increase the fuel efficiency of the vehicles.

In terms of the different fuel blends, the E10 segment is projected to be the largest market for bioethanol given that European countries and other regions have mandated the use of E10 fuel blends in vehicles to lower the GHGs emission rate. Additionally, a small percentage of bioethanol can be mixed with the pure gasoline to prepare bioethanol blends, which burn more efficiently and produce zero carbon emission. As a result, the use of bioethanol fuel blends is mandated in many countries around the world. Based on these factors, transportation is projected to be the largest end-use segment of the bioethanol market in terms of value and volume.

Biodiesel, the other biofuel, is made by combining alcohol with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease, and can be used as an additive to reduce vehicle emissions or in its pure form as a renewable alternative fuel for diesel engines. Although the pace of research interest had slowed, research into the production of liquid transportation fuels from microscopic algae, or microalgae, is on the upswing at NREL. According to BCC Research, the global market for biodiesel reached $35.1 billion in 2019 and should reach $49.2 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 7.0% for the period of 2019-2024.

Oil crops such as rapeseed, palm, or soybean are the largest source of biodiesel, which makes it a sustainable alternative compared to conventional diesel. Furthermore, biodiesel meets both the biomass-based diesel and overall advanced biofuel requirement of the Renewable Fuel Standard – it also meets specifications created by the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) for legal diesel motor fuel (ASTM D975) and the definition for biodiesel itself (ASTM D6751). Pure biodiesel is referred as B100 (100% biodiesel) but is rarely used given that existing diesel engines may not be suitable for pure biodiesel. Therefore, just as with ethanol, blends are used that have a certain proportion of biodiesel mixed with fossil diesel. Most of the current diesel engines are capable of handling biodiesel blended fuels – the most common blends currently in use are B5 (up to 5% biodiesel) and B20 (6% to 20% biodiesel).

In February of 2020 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the Renewable Fuel Standard Program: Standards for 2020 and Biomass-Based Diesel Volume for 2021 and Other Changes which set renewable fuel percentage standards every year. The close ties between the agriculture industry, transportation, and others is also an important area for growth, in May of 2020 the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture intends to make available up to $100 million in competitive grants for activities designed to expand the availability and sale of renewable fuels under the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP). Looking for more? The Europe & North America Advanced Biofuels Summit 2021 will be held virtually in April 2021.