Biofuels are renewable fuels that can be blended into petrol and diesel. They are a valuable part of the energy mix as a lower-cost way to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the transport sector, provided that their production is managed in a responsible way.

Most biofuels are produced from corn, sugar cane or vegetable oils. Some emit significantly less CO2 compared with conventional fuel. But this depends on several factors, such as how the raw materials are produced. There are also concerns about labour rights, over using land to grow fuel instead of food, and about using too much water in the production process.

Responsible production

Shell produces one of the lowest-CO2 biofuels available today through our joint venture Raízen, which makes ethanol from sugar cane in Brazil. This biofuel can reduce CO2 emissions by around 70% compared with petrol when produced in Brazil. Raízen now ranks as one of the world's largest producers of biofuels.

Raízen’s production process is designed to minimise its environmental footprint. By-products are recycled as natural fertilisers, and waste sugar cane fibres are used as fuel to generate electricity for the mills. The mills reduce water consumption by using rainfall to water the crops and by recycling water during production.

Raízen was the first company to certify a sugar cane mill using the Bonsucro sustainability standard in 2011. Bonsucro is a robust standard that certifies sugar cane globally for its social and environmental criteria. Thirteen of its 24 sugar-cane mills are Bonsucro certified. 

Blending biofuels globally

Shell is one of the largest blenders of biofuels in the world. In 2014, we blended around 9 billion litres of biofuels in our petrol and diesel worldwide.

We demand that the biofuels we purchase are produced in a way that is environmentally and socially responsible across the life cycle of the production chain. In many countries fuel retailers are required to blend a certain percentage of biofuels into their petrol or diesel.

In Thailand, for example, locally-grown palm oil is turned into biodiesel (biofuel) and then blended into diesel, to increase energy from renewable sources as part of a 10-year government plan, while supporting agriculture. Of the country’s roughly 120,000 palm oil producers, most are independent smallholders.

Watch a film to see how our project with Patum Vegetable Oil has fostered closer collaboration between the mills, refineries and farmers towards the production of more sustainable biofuels.

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Advanced biofuels

Our primary focus for alternative energies growth at Shell is advanced biofuels. Shell was one of the first energy companies to invest in making advanced biofuels from non-edible plants and crop waste. 

Over the last ten years we have evaluated many different technologies in this area and set up five pilot plants with different partners. Now we are focusing on the commercialisation of a few select technologies and performing most of our technical work in-house.

A pilot plant at our technology centre in Houston, USA, is testing the conversion of non-food plants into fuels that can be blended in higher proportions with petrol and diesel than today's biofuels.

A second pilot plant in Houston is testing a process to make cellulosic ethanol that could provide beneficial yield and operating performance.

In Brazil in 2014, Raízen completed the construction of a plant to produce advanced biofuels from sugar-cane waste. The plant is expected to produce 38 million litres of ethanol from non-edible biomass each year.

Whether an advanced biofuel achieves commercial scale depends on overcoming a range of technical and economic challenges.

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