Biofuels: sustainable innovation or gold rush?

Biofuels are controversial. Policy makers and other stakeholders are struggling to find answers to how, and under which conditions sustainability could be realized  and how to encourage sustainable practices through guidelines and norms (e.g., derived from the Cramer Criteria). This project aims to address these strategic questions by investigating conceptual, ethical and political aspects of sustainability of biofuels. First, different organizational models for production and use will be studied, their institutional and policy governance; value- and resource trade-offs arising between economic, social and environmental sustainability dimensions generated by these different models; and their relation to societal controversies. It will then be analysed how contestations influence future development of biofuel technologies, and what policy lessons can be drawn from that.

The main research question is: What organisational models of innovation, production and use of biofuels can be sustainable in social, economic and environmental terms if appropriately governed, and how can, or should, sustainability be understood in this context?

An early 2nd generation biofuel will be studied, Jatropha curcas L.; from this study, implications will be derived for more advanced 2nd generation biofuels. Jatropha’s tropical habitat raises issues of moral (in)justice and geopolitics associated with massive land-grab investments in poor countries by rich-country parties. Thus, institutional and policy governance of ‘sustainable’ initiatives will be explored at multiple interconnected levels, from the local to the global. Two Jatropha frontrunner countries, Tanzania and India, and their links to policies and investments from EU countries will be compared. Interviews with key stakeholders will focus on evolving practices in different production models; networking; sustainability values; tradeoff experiences; and contestations related to, e.g., impacts on local livelihoods and ecosystem diversity. Policy documents will be studied to understand how policies shape governance and practices. Extant studies about Jatropha’s carbon debt, financial viability, and ecosystem effects will complement these primary sources.

Funding

This project has been funded with a grant of 550.000 euro by NWO, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research

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