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Open Access Publications from the University of California

What to Make of Biofuels? Understanding the Market from 2010 to the Present, and Projecting Ahead to 2030 Given Current Policies

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Low-carbon biofuels are projected to play a critical role in the early and middle stages of a transition away from petroleum fuels, and they will likely have a longer-term role in uses like aviation and maritime transportation that require energy-dense fuels in high volumes. Policies over the last decade aimed to move low-carbon biofuels squarely into U.S. markets. While these policies encouraged the production of conventional biofuels such as crop-based ethanol, cellulosic fuels that can have a significantly lower carbon footprint per unit energy failed to materialize at commercial scale.

A research team at the University of California, Davis examined the track record of the past decade for clues as to why this happened, and looked forward to 2030 to point to how current policies are likely to still fall short in delivering low-carbon biofuels that can reach scales needed for these hard-to-decarbonize sectors. The findings highlight barriers to low-carbon biofuel development that would safeguard against unintended consequences such as additional emissions from land use changes or higher food prices that can come from competition with the use of crops for fuel. This policy brief summarizes the findings from that research and provides policy implications.

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