New biofuels

Bioenergy is renewable energy that is produced from biological sources, biomass, which can be used for heat, electricity and transportation fuel, and associated co-products. Biofuel refers to liquid fuels produced from biomass. Although bioenergy has been used for centuries, recent commercial biofuel manufacture and the development of biotechnologies to support new forms of production have raised a wide range of social and ethical aspirations and concerns.

Renewable energy
Bioenergy is renewable energy that is produced from biological sources, biomass, which can be used for heat, electricity and transportation fuel, and associated co-products. Biofuel refers to liquid fuels produced from biomass (see FAO 2008 for further information).

Commercially established sources of biofuel today are crops such as soy, palm oil, sugar cane, or corn, often referred to as ' first-generation' biofuels. Biofuels produced from lignocellulosic biomass derived from non-food or food crop co-products (such as straw) are referred to as 'Second-generation' Biofuels. These need further biotechnological and commercial development.

Although bioenergy has been used for centuries, recent commercial biofuel manufacture and the development of biotechnologies to support new forms of production have raised a wide range of social and ethical aspirations and concerns.

Issues and controversy
The types of issues include a number of notable social issues, with the use of biofuels having the potential to substantially change current energy, agricultural and land use practices and policies. The issues raised by biofuels are exemplified by the increasing controversy (reflected by widespread media coverage and debate) surrounding the use of arable land for fuel production and the resultant impact that this may have on food supply and pricing.

A number of approaches and assessment methods have being applied to identify the social and ethical dimensions of novel technologies, including biofuels. These approaches include TA, stakeholder engagement, ELSA tools, national ethical committee appraisals, etc. Stakeholder and public engagement mechanisms appear to have become increasingly important for scientists in this field to engage with social concerns that relate Biofuels.

Within in this case study, each of these approaches will be mapped and examined. Claims made that this type of engagement with issues and wider reflection can promote the search for new ideas and solutions within the research community will also be examined.

Further Reading

FAO (2008): The state of food and agriculture. Biofuels: prospects, risks and opportunities. Rome: FAO
Gamborg, C., Millar, K., Shortall, O. and Sandøe, P. (2012, in press) Bioenergy and Land use: Framing the Ethical Debate. Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Ethics - DOI 10.1007/s10806-011-9351-1