Bioenergy & Sustainability: A SCOPE Rapid Assessment Process Project

Project Title

Bioenergy & Sustainability: Bridging the Gaps


  • Glaucia M. SOUZA (Universidade de São Paulo), Brazil
  • Reynaldo L. VICTORIA (Universidade de São Paulo), Brazil
  • Carlos A. JOLY (Universidade Estadual de Campinas), Brazil
  • Luciano M. VERDADE (Universidade de São Paulo), Brazil

Scientific Advisory Committee

  • Carlos Henrique de BRITO CRUZ – Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo, Brazil
  • Helena L. CHUM – National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), USA
  • Lewis FULTON – University of California Davis, USA
  • José GOLDEMBERG – Universidade de São Paulo, Brazil
  • Brian J. HUNTLEY – Stellenbosch University, South Africa
  • Lee R. LYND – Dartmouth College, USA
  • Patricia OSSEWEIJER – Delft University, The Netherlands
  • Jack N. SADDLER – University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Jon SAMSETH – Oslo and Akershus University College, Norway
  • Chris R. SOMERVILLE – University of California Berkeley, USA
  • Jeremy WOODS – Imperial College London, UK

Project overview

The implementation of policy for the replacement of fossil energy by bioenergy is an ongoing effort in many countries. With decreasing oil reserves, increasing fossil fuel prices and the urgent need to decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, bioenergy is a promising alternative.

Advantages of biofuels can include a positive energy balance, reduction of GHG emissions and indirect effects such as rural development. Studies based on lifecycle analysis conclude that when ethanol from sugarcane is used to replace fossil fuels in transportation, a substantial reduction in net GHG emissions may result (from 80% to greater than 100% savings). Biomass can be used to generate biofuels, electricity, bio-based chemicals, biogas and heat and among the renewable energy options is the one whose benefits spread through the most areas of society. Lignocellulosic fuels, bioelectricity and stationary generation of energy can be very efficient and are coming up as options to make our energy matrix increasingly more sustainable. The rise in bioenergy production must be accompanied by studies and analysis of all the associated implications and environmental impacts.

The development of biorefinery systems that incorporate first, second and third generation fuel production alongside co-generation of electricity in conjunction with bio-based chemicals promises to aggregate value, increase efficiency of co-product generation and mitigate carbon emissions. But how far can we go? What are the limits that need to be faced for agriculture and biofuels? What are the special problems of biofuels with regard to agricultural products in general?

A review of recent developments in the biofuel industry and an assessment of current technologies and practices along the chain have been done to evaluate air quality impacts, GHG emissions and mitigation, water use, nutrient cycle, the effects on biodiversity as well as social and land use change (LUC) impacts on biodiversity, biogeochemical cycling and hydrology. Biodiversity has a critical role underpinning ecosystem functioning, the delivery of ecosystem services, and hence the human life support system. Land use changes linked to biofuel production were assessed in this perspective, taking into consideration the high level of biodiversity in some of the countries where biofuel production may be stimulated.

Mandates and certification criteria are discussed to guide the implementation of a global biofuel market. Changes in methodologies over the indirect land use changes (iLUC) discussions and soil carbon measurements are addressed. We produced an assessment on the benefits of biofuels in order to consider their social, economic and environmental impacts, win-win situations and trade-offs.

Technologies that lead to less pollution, lower energy consumption and decreased GHG emissions for fuel production were evaluated with regard to their economic feasibility, the industry’s capacity for their implementation in scale and the short- and long-term impacts on the environment, human health and generation of wealth.

The results of the assessment were used to define how to bridge the gaps in knowledge, solutions and policy recommendations for the sustainable expansion of bioenergy in the world.

Rapid Assessment Process Workshop – Paris – France, 2-6 December 2013

In December 2013, 50 experts from 13 countries met for a SCOPE rapid assessment process workshop on Bioenergy and Sustainability. Background chapters commissioned before the workshop provided the basis for this international consultation held at UNESCO in Paris, France. 

Crosscutting discussions focused on four themes: 

  • Energy Security
  • Food Security
  • Environmental and Climate Security
  • Sustainable Development & Innovation

The goals of the assessment and the resulting synthesis volume were to assess and communicate the complex nuances and opportunities of the key issue, to integrate scientific research and help inform the policy process, indicating options for the sustainable expansion of bioenergy use and production around the world.

Synthesis of knowledge volume structure

The e-book is downloadable free of charge at:

Bioenergy and Sustainability: bridging the gaps


Land Use, Feedstocks, Technologies and Impacts

Key Findings, Conclusions and Policy Recommendations 

Part 1  

  • 1.    Executive Summary 
  • 2.    Bioenergy Numbers 
  • 3.    Energy Security
  • 4.    Food Security
  • 5.    Environmental and Climate Security
  • 6.    Sustainable Development and Innovation
  • 7.    Filling the Gaps – The Much Needed Science

Part 2

  • 8.    Perspectives on Bioenergy
  • 9.    Land and Bioenergy
  • 10.  Feedstocks for Biofuels and Bioenergy
  • 11.  Feedstock Supply Chains
  • 12.  Conversion Technologies for Biofuels and Their Use
  • 13.  Agriculture and Forestry Integration
  • 14.  Case Studies
  • 15.  Social Considerations 
  • 16.  Biofuel Impacts on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
  • 17.  Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Bioenergy
  • 18.  Soils and Water
  • 19.  Sustainability Certification
  • 20.  Bioenergy Economics and Policies
  • 21.  Biomass Resources, Energy Access and Poverty Reduction 


BIOEN, the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program, aims at articulating public and private R&D, using academic and industrial laboratories to advance and apply knowledge in fields related to bioenergy in Brazil. Research ranges from biomass production and processing to biofuel technologies, biorefineries, sustainability and impacts.


The FAPESP Research Program on Global Climate Change (RPGCC) aims at advancing knowledge on Global Climate Change and guide decisions and policy in the field.


The BIOTA-FAPESP Program (FAPESP Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use), aims not only at discovering, mapping and analyzing the origins, diversity and distribution of the flora and fauna of the biomes of the state of São Paulo, but also at evaluating the possibilities of sustainable exploitation of plants or animals with economic potential and assisting in the formulation of conservation policies on remnants of native vegetation.


The Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment is an international nongovernmental organization founded in 1969. SCOPE is a cross-sectoral and trans-disciplinary network, connecting experts and institutions around the world.  It is recognized for its authoritative, independent and influential scientific analyses and assessments of emerging environmental issues that are caused by or impact humans and the environment.  It collaborates with inter-governmental agencies such as UNESCO and UNEP and with other partners in the development of its scientific program and outreach activities.

Bioenergy in the context of climate change and biodiversity

Three FAPESP Programs working together toward a sustainable expansion of bioenergy in the world

At present, approximately 87% of energy demand is satisfied by energy produced through consumption of fossil fuels. Although the IEA predicts that this share will fall to 75%, the total consumption of fossil fuels will continue to rise, adding another 6 Gt of carbon to the atmosphere by 2035. The consequences of this increase are worrisome. Our oceans are being critically affected. Oceans are an important CO2 sink and absorb 26% of the CO2 emissions but due to accelerated acidification and rising sea surface temperatures, this capacity may be reduced. Never in the last 300 million years has the rate of ocean acidification been so high. In the last 150 years, acidity in oceans increased by 30%. The main cause are the emissions from fossil fuel burning, especially the release of CO2. 

Deforestation also contributes to increased greenhouse gas emissions. The world’s total forest area in 2010 was just over 4 billion hectares, which corresponds to an average of 0.6 ha per capita.  Each year, between 2000 and 2010, around 13 million hectares of forestland were converted to other uses or lost through natural causes. The production of timber for housing or the need to make land available for urbanization, large-scale cash crops such as soy and palm oil, and cattle ranching induce deforestation. Forests are also degraded or damaged due to the soaring demand for fuelwood and charcoal for cooking and heating in developing countries that suffer from low levels of access to modern energy services. 

The development of modern high efficiency bioenergy technologies has the potential to improve energy access while reducing environmental impacts and stimulating low-carbon development.