The world's biodiesel potential

Summary:Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) have ranked 226 countries according to their potential to make large volumes of biodiesel at low cost. Their evaluation of the world's potential to produce biodiesel shows that Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, Uruguay and Ghana are the developing nations most likely to attract biodiesel investment for several reasons including agricultural and political factors. The researchers have estimated that 'a grand total of 51 billion liters of biodiesel could be produced annually -- enough to meet roughly 4-5 percent of the world's existing demand for petroleum diesel.'

Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) have ranked 226 countries according to their potential to make large volumes of biodiesel at low cost. Their evaluation of the world's potential to produce biodiesel shows that Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia, Uruguay and Ghana are the developing nations most likely to attract biodiesel investment for several reasons including agricultural and political factors. The researchers have estimated that 'a grand total of 51 billion liters of biodiesel could be produced annually -- enough to meet roughly 4-5 percent of the world's existing demand for petroleum diesel.'

Global biodiesel potential

The map above "shows global biodiesel potential, color-coded by absolute production volume from existing lipid exports. The aggregate volume potential is 51 billion liters annually spread over 119 countries. The top five, Malaysia, Indonesia, Argentina, the United States, and Brazil, collectively account for over 80% of the total."

Biodiesel production costs

Because all the countries don't rely on the same feedstocks, they're not are equally suited to large-scale biodiesel production -- as witnessed by the production cost per liter shown in the map above. "Biodiesel production costs vary considerably, ranging from $0.29 per liter to over $9.00 per liter." (Credit: UW-M)

This project has been been achieved by two researchers of the UW-M Nelson Institute's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE), Matt Johnston and Tracey Holloway.

It is interesting to note how the researchers decided to launch this study. "The idea for the analysis first struck Johnston on a visit to a remote island of Fiji, where people rely primarily on petroleum diesel to run generators for electricity. Transported in by boat, the fuel cost the equivalent of $20 per gallon. Meanwhile, the islanders were growing coconuts and processing them into oil that sold for 50 cents a liter. 'The price disparity was just incredible,' says Johnston, 'and it prompted me to think about where else in the world countries might have this biofuels potential, but not necessarily realize it.'"

And here are some of the conclusions of the researchers. "We're not saying, 'There's all this potential out there, go get it,'" says Johnston. "Instead, we're looking at which vegetable oil feed stocks are most likely to be affected and which countries will most likely be doing this at a large-scale. That way, we can anticipate some of the impacts, as opposed to having to react after the fact." [...] "We're not suggesting that all exported vegetable oil should be converted into biodiesel, because that would fundamentally upset the food supply," says Holloway. "We're looking at this more from each individual country's perspective: They're already exporting one thing, could they be exporting something else""

This research work should soon be published in Environmental Science & Technology under the title "A Global Comparison of National Biodiesel Production Potentials." Here is a link to a preliminary version of this technical paper (PDF format, 26 pages, 281 KB). The above maps have been extracted from this document. They're also available from the SAGE's Energy page.

Sources: Madeline Fisher, University of Wisconsin-Madison News, October 17, 2007; and various websites

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Topics: Malaysia

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