The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched a public consultation on the potential of new types of biofuels, such as fuel produced by algae, to provide us with a greener source of renewable energy.

First generation biofuels, such as bioethanol made from corn, have not lived up to expectations. In some cases their net greenhouse gas emissions are not much better than those of fossil fuels and there have been concerns about their impact on the environment, food availability, and farmers and communities in developing countries.

Greenhouse at dusk

Research into new types of biofuels is looking more promising. In the future we may be able to use algae, trees, the inedible ‘woody’ parts of plants, and agricultural waste to produce biofuel. In addition, scientists are working to increase the yield of biofuel crops and improve the production process, in order to maximise the energy output of land and reduce net greenhouse gas emissions.

The Council aims to identify and explore the potential benefits and disadvantages as well as the ethical, social, legal and economic issues raised by new approaches to biofuels and to develop policy recommendations where appropriate.