Mandates and subsidies can be used together, or as in the case of Germany, mandates can follow subsidies. As of early 2006, the German government was in the process of replacing subsidies for first-generation biofuels with a fuel blending mandate, but intended to maintain the subsidy for next-generation biofuels to further their development. In the near term, the promotion of biomass generally for various bioenergy and materials uses will help develop the biomass feedstock production sector while the next-generation liquid fuel conversion technologies are developed.
Public concerns regarding possible environmental impacts of biofuel feedstock cultivation must also be addressed if biofuels are to gain broad public acceptance. (See section 3.8 for a discussion of certification and other proposed schemes to assure the sustainable production of biofuels.)
National and International Research, Development, and Demonstration
To date, the world’s engineering and scientific skills have not been focused coherently on the challenges associated with large-scale biofuel development and use. Thus, there is enormous potential for dramatic breakthroughs in feedstock and technologies that could allow biofuels to play a major role in enhancing energy security, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and providing much of the world community with economical transport.
There has been a tremendous surge in private-sector investment in biofuels in recent years, but this investment tends to be oriented towards short-term and high payoff research. There are many long-term research needs that governments are best- suited to address; governments and international organizations should help coordinate public and private efforts by bringing together the best minds and resources in national research facilities, universities, civil society, and industry. Because intermittent funding seriously hampers research efforts, funding for research, development, and demonstration must be consistent as well as long term. It is worth noting that much of this research will likely have applications across the broader agricultural sector.
Research is needed to develop feedstocks and sustainable management practices, as well as technologies for harvesting, processing, transporting, and storing feedstock and fuels. Research is also required to better understand the potential environmental and societal impacts of biofuels throughout the entire supply chain. Biofuels and bioenergy as a whole are a cross-sectoral topic, which can only be analyzed in an integrated way. Some of the key areas for further research are provided below.
Improve Conventional Feedstock. Improve energy yields of conventional biofuel feedstock, while developing sustainable management systems that include minimizing the use of chemical inputs and water. This includes research into the potential for modifying food crops to maximize both food and cellulose (for energy) production.