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Market foresighting: liquid biofuels


Biofuels are a renewable natural fuel source which have the potential to serve as alternative to fossil based fuels. The report focused on liquid biofuels, which depend on feedstocks from agricultural sources, primarily for use in transportation. The report aimed to assess biofuel opportunities in Scotland, looking in particular at the influences on the biofuel market, such as: legislation; political dynamics; economics; environmental impact; technological challenges; and sociocultural issues. It considered: whether there is sufficient feedstock or land in the UK or Scotland for domestic bioethanol production; whether bioethanol production in Scotland is economically viable; what significant strategic issues need to be addressed; and whether Scotland could contribute useful know-how and technology to global bioethanol production.


The methodology consisted of: an assessment of the biofuel markets; descriptions of bioethanol’s production; an investigation of the Scottish biofuels market; and an outline of UK bioethanol and biodiesel initiatives, including research of bioethanol in Aberdeen by Kerr Walker and Elaine Booth, Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), Aberdeen.


Biofuels have the potential to meet climate change commitments and reduce reliance on fossil fuels and dependence on foreign oil imports. Biodiesel and bioethanol are the principal commercially viable biofuels available. The biofuel market continues to be driven by regional legislation. There is a significant market opportunity, but Scotland lacks an ideal feedstock and infrastructure to make bioethanol production in Scotland globally competitive. Consequently, any initiative is likely to involve collaborations between academics and companies both within and outwith Scotland, working to generate intellectual property and know-how that could be leveraged by bioethanol producers globally. Bioethanol is competitive with fossil petrol, providing that the bioethanol production costs are no greater than around 18 pence per litre of the refining cost of petrol. The report highlights that it is not cetain whether bioethanol releases more energy than is used to produce it. Bioethanol production is sub-optimal and there is significant scope for improving the process through the application of life science technological advancement. There is relatively limited scope for improving biodiesel production.


In terms of ITI's role, the report suggests that it will continue to explore ways in which potentially valuable bioethanol techology could be developed in Scotland. Aside from building infrastructure to satisfy production demand (which is outside the remit of ITI Energy), the report recommends that it is vital that technology gaps relating to life sciences are assessed to determine areas for innovation. Because bioethanol production is currently inefficient due to a large number of energy-intensive steps, it is important to assess: the net energy balance of bioethanol production; whether suitable feedstock is available in the UK or Scotland; and the production yields of bioethanol from lignocellulose or whole-crop cereals and other forms of biomass, such as forestry products, which remain a major area for innovation within Scotland. ITI Life Sciences could also contribute to challenges surrounding biodiesel production, such as: improving oil yield from existing crops; investigating the development of new input crops; and finding alternative high value-added use for by-products.

Author ITI Life Sciences
Published Year 2010
Report Type Research
  • Business infrastructure
    Supporting key sectors
  • Sectors
    Life Sciences