Civil society groups call on UN Agency to withdraw misleading report about second generation biofuel market

For Immediate Release: April 6th, 2016
Contact: Almuth Ernsting, Biofuelwatch Co-Director, +44 131 6232 600,

Civil society groups call on UN Agency to withdraw misleading report about second generation biofuel market

Edinburgh, Scotland –Today Biofuelwatch and six other groups [1] call on the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) to withdraw a report [2] which falsely claims that second generation biofuels –which are made from wood, grasses or crop residues – have become a ”commercial reality.” [3] In an Open Letter to UNCTAD, [4] the groups warn that the report’s conclusion is based on such profound factual inaccuracies and misleading industry claims that it should be withdrawn.

The groups’ letter highlights four specific examples of gross factual inaccuracies found in the report. Those include the report’s claim that over 100 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol were produced in the US in 2014. Data published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) however documents that just over 2 million gallons were produced, just two percent of what the UNCTAD report claims was produced. [5]

The report additionally presents a list of ten “second generation” biofuel production plants with “the highest capacity.” However, of those ten, seven in fact never produced second generation fuels. Rather, for example they made use of first generation feedstocks, produced plastics or other non-fuel products. Another one of the ten began production but then shut down three months prior to publication of the report. Of the remaining two, one continues to be plagued with problems and has yet to operate successfully, and the last biofuel production plant never operated successfully and appears to have been shut down.

In our own research, we found at least five additional commercial-scale ”second generation” biofuel refineries in the U.S., which have failed to produce fuels due largely to problems with the technologies involved. [6]

Almuth Ernsting, from Biofuelwatch states: “We are deeply concerned that developing countries’ governments could be misled by UNCTAD’s flawed report that claims that second generation biofuels are commercially viable when current evidence shows that they clearly are not. In the worst case, under resourced countries could end up wasting scarce public funding on technologies which have no track-record of working. UNCTAD’s report is based virtually entirely on industry reports and claims from trade digests, not on factual analysis. This is unacceptable for a UN organisation. The report must be withdrawn.


[1] List of signatories in alphabetical order:
Center for Biological Diversity
ETC Group
Friends of the Earth U.S.
Global Justice Ecology Project
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
International Center for Technology Assessment


[3] The UNCTAD Report “Second Generation Biofuel Markets: State of Play, Trade and Developing Country Perspectives” can be viewed at


[5] According to the UNCTAD report, 490.37 million litres of cellulosic ethanol were produced in the US in 2015, which converts to 107.89 million gallons. Yet according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, total US cellulosic ethanol production that year was 2.18 milion gallons:

[6] The six additional failed commercial-scale refineries referred to were ones built by Range Fuel, KiOR, Cello Energy, Coskata, American Process Inc. See: Biofuel or Biofraud? The Vast Taxpayer Cost of Failed Cellulosic and Algal Biofuels, Almuth Ernsting, Independent Science News, March 2016,

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