Biofuels are not a cost-effective means of reducing emissions from road transport and pose significant sustainability problems, a new study from independent think-tank Chatham House has suggested.

Current biofuels are a more expensive source of energy than fossil fuels and have lower energy densities, meaning that greater volumes of fuel are required, said the report.  In terms of reducing emissions, the carbon abatement costs resulting from their use, excluding emissions from indirect land-use change, come to $165-$1,100 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent, it added.

More cost-effective emissions reductions are achievable along with overall fuel consumption reductions via existing technologies like start-stop engine systems or engine downsizing coupled to turbo boost or supercharging, suggested the study.

The UK’s Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, which requires 5% of total transport fuel volume to be biofuel, is likely to cost motorists around £460m in the current financial year, a sum predicted to rise to around £1.3bn a year by 2020 if the UK is to meet current EU obligations on the use of such fuels, it warned.

Current criteria used to evaluate the sustainability of biofuels in the UK do not include indirect land-use change or issues of food security, making plans to increase their use of debatable environmental benefit, it suggested.

A spokesman for the DfT said government policy remained that genuinely sustainable biofuels have a role to play in efforts to tackle climate change, but added that it would “continue to take a cautious approach” in terms of setting targets for the supply of such fuel.