Should 1st generation bioethanol production be suspended to help avert food grain shortage and price spikes in the face of low yields / harvest?
Following last summer’s diminished harvests around the world, things have got from bad to worse for world grain production. Yet with the US biofuel mandate and RED/ FQD targets in the EU, more and more grain is being earmarked for fuel production. In the US, over 126 million tonnes of corn due to be turned to bioethanol this year. In the UK. One bioethanol plants set to use 1.1m tonnes of feed wheat. That is equivalent amount to the annual average direct wheat consumption of over 15 million people (using FAO/ UN figures). However, now the UK cannot produce enough wheat to meet domestic food and feed requirements, or spare any for export, let alone bioethanol use. See this BBC news item for further details.
Global food security should be the utmost priority now and unless measures are taken to compensate for lower harvests, price spikes and shortages will again exacerbate poverty and social unrest.
As wheat production has dropped, there has been an increase in the significance of the competition for agricultural land and feedstock between the food and biofuel industries. First generation bioethanol depends on food crops as feedstock. The reduction in UK grain production has led to trouble for both industries. As a result, the largest bioethanol refinery in Europe, the Ensus plant, has just closed down for the third time due to a lack of usable, economically viable wheat as feedstock. The plant tried to compensate for adequate wheat supply by importing EU maize. However, it has now been shut down until the situation improves. However, with uncertain yields and production due to adverse weather events, the priority should now be to build up the diminished grain stocks as soon as possible in case of further severely reduced harvests worldwide.
Instead, the biofuel industry demand will continue turning large quantities of grain to ethanol to be used as vehicle fuel. The resultant positive impact on greenhouse gas emissions from using bioethanol as an additive to gasoline (petrol) will be insignificant as compared to just driving less, or sharing a journey! See this report on the numerous alternative ways of reducing transport CO2 emissions: