Study «Biomass fuel - second Generation »

IntroductionProcedure | Results / Downloads | Events | Contacts | Links


Rainer Zah, Claudia Binder, Stefan Bringezu, Jürgen Reinhard, Alfons Schmid, Helmut Schütz.
Future Perspectives of 2nd Generation Biofuels.
TA-SWISS, Zentrum für Technologiefolgen-Abschätzung (Hrsg.).
vdf Hochschulverlag AG der ETH Zürich, 2010.
ISBN 978-3-7281-3334-2
Also available as eBook:


Why use fuels from biomass?
Traffic causes a substantial proportion of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Even more economical vehicles and higher fuel prices could well take a very long time to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, because motorisation is still on the rise in countries which have now been “undersupplied”. It is suggested that the use of fuels obtained from biomass is one possible way of achieving a more sustainable mobility. While it is true that burning such bio- or agro-fuels creates CO2, the plants from which these fuels are produced will previously have extracted CO2 from the atmosphere in order to grow. The overall CO2 balance should therefore be more favourable than is the case with fossil fuels. This balance does, however, depend heavily on the type of biomass that the fuel is produced from and which methods are used in the process.

Opportunities and risks of fuels from biomass
The use of bio- or agro-fuels should reduce the consumption of fossil energy sources and cut the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. It is, however, becoming increasingly apparent that the positive effects are smaller than expected. In addition, the large-scale production of “first generation” biofuels often means using plants such as maize that would be suitable for food. Nevertheless, there are widespread incentives being created to raise the proportion of biofuels in energy consumption. The “second generation” of biofuels should be more expedient. Wood, straw and vegetable waste are used as raw materials. This does not compete with the production of food and should help to achieve a better ecological and energy balance. With regard to commercial applications, however, there is still a considerable need for research and development.

Why conduct a TA-SWISS study on this subject?
Biofuels are now hailed as an effective solution, but there are nevertheless some doubts, because a number of production methods are still under development, and it is unclear which of these will ultimately prove most suitable for large scale production. A detailed investigation, taking current research findings into account, is therefore essential to enable these technologies to be fully assessed. In addition to questions of energy efficiency and eco-balance (effects on CO2 emissions), it will also have to consider economic and social aspects in detail and demonstrate the potential for future developments.

Aims of the study
The aim of this study is to analyse the potential and risks involved in using second generation biofuels. How can such fuels be used in Switzerland? What is their potential, taking into account sustainability criteria, and the situation in the European Union and in developing countries?

  • The different sources of biomass, production technologies and forms of energetic use should be compared on the basis of sustainability criteria. It should also be shown which actors are important in the respective applications.
  • The potential and impact of complete value-added chains of second generation biofuels should be assessed. What are the ecological, economic and social effects? How do they compare with other renewable forms of energy?
  • The sustainability of various future scenarios should be examined for Switzerland from an ecological, economic and social viewpoint.
  • How great is the potential for energy from biomass on a national/international scale? What is the situation with regard to the cost-effectiveness of the technologies, and how much mobility can be generated in this way?
  • Which strategies have to be followed for producing, trading and using second generation biofuels in order to guarantee the sustainability of such systems? What development mechanisms can be used to support these strategies? Recommendations must be formulated on the basis of a wide-ranging overall assessment, and directed at decision makers, especially politicians.



The study essentially comprises four modules:

  • Module 1: researching literature and analysing the actors: the current state of knowledge on the production and use of biofuels will be explored by research in literature. This will focus on the following elements: supply of biomass, production of biofuels, energetic utilisation, actors and development mechanisms.
  • Module 2: prospective eco-balance or life cycle assessment (LCA). This will enable the value-added chain of second generation biofuels to be analysed. Its elements (cf. module 1) will be assessed using a catalogue of criteria, from the ecological, economic and social viewpoint.
  • Module 3: scenario-based analysis of future prospects. This will involve the analysis, discussion and assessment of various future scenarios. These will be developed with identified actors , and will cover in particular the components of land use, technology and products.
  • Module 4: overall assessment and recommendations. This will also take into account the development mechanisms for biofuels in the EU and other globally important factors (e.g. availability of usable agricultural space) and other ways of using biomass. It should enable a comprehensive assessment of sustainable mobility.

Project start: autumn 2008 | completion: spring 2010


Results and downloads

Results of the study
Executive summary

Seven proposals for exploiting the potential of biofuels

Media information
On the move with wood and manure - Local biofuels for sustainable mobility
By 2030, biofuels and electro-mobility could replace 41 per cent of the fuel Switzerland needs. Hence the latest study by the Centre for Technology Assessment TA-SWISS. But it will only happen under optimum conditions and if vehicles consume an average of just four litres of fuel per 100 kilometres.

Journey into the green - How far can we go with second generation biofuels?
Abridged version of the TA-SWISS study «Future Perspectives of 2nd Generation Biofuels»

Future Perspectives of 2nd Generation Biofuels

04/2010 in German and French

Publications on the subject
29.06.2010, RSR La 1ère, le 12h30 (French)



Life cycle assessment (LCA) on future biofuels; Empa, Dübendorf, 17 November 2008.
EPTA Conference, Copenhagen, 2-3 November 2010

Conference „BiomassEnergie – Gemeinsam Visionen schaffen“



Supported by

  • Centre for Technology Assessment TA-SWISS
  • Swiss Federal Office for the Environment FOEN
  • Swiss Federal Office of Energy SFOE
  • Swiss Academy of Sciences SCNAT
  • Swiss Academy of Engineering Sciences SATW

Persons participating

TA-SWISS Project Supervisors

  • Dr. Adrian Rüegsegger, TA-SWISS. E-Mail

Project mandataries

  • Dr Rainer Zah, Empa, St Gall (Project Manager)
  • Prof. Dr Claudia R. Binder, University of Zurich
  • Dr Stefan Bringezu, Wuppertal Institut, Germany
  • Dr Christoph Ritz, ProClim, Bern

Supervisory group

  • Dr Ruedi Jörg-Fromm, TA-SWISS Steering Committee (chairman of supervisory group)
  • Rosmarie Bär, alliance sud, Bern
  • Dr Marco Berg, Climate Cent Foundation, Zurich
  • Prof. Dr Richard Braun, BioLink, Bern
  • Dr Reto Burkard, Swiss Federal Office for Agriculture FOAG, Bern
  • Heinz Hänni, Swiss Farmers’ Union SBV, Brugg
  • Prof. Dr Christian Hardtke, University of Lausanne
  • Dr Sandra Hermle, Swiss Federal Office of Energy SFOE
  • Roger Löhrer, Touring Club Schweiz TCS, Emmen
  • René Longet, equiterre, Geneva
  • Prof. Dr Wolfgang Nentwig, University of Bern
  • Dr Gerhard Stucki, Balewa AG, Liestal
  • Dr Samuel Stucki, Paul Scherrer Institut PSI, Villigen
  • Dr Roland von Arx, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, Bern



Further links

BiomassEnergie – die Informationsstelle von EnergieSchweiz

Roundtable on sustainable biofuels

Literaturdatenbank Biomasse des Bundes

Alcosuisse: Bioethanol

OECD Trade and Agricultural Directorate – Bioenergy


Short Title: Biomass fuel
Long Title: Biomass fuel - second Generation
Short Description: The new generation of biofuels can be produced from plants that do not compete with the cultivation of foods. Furthermore, these fuels should be more environmentally friendly than classic fuels from biomass. Whether this so-called second generation of biofuels will deliver what it promises will be investigated in a comprehensive sustainability analysis for the study.
Start: 2008
End: 2010
Partner Institutes:
Scope Countries:
Contact Person: Rüegsegger, Adrian
Home Page URL:
Project Leader: TA-SWISS
Other Members:

The project in brief

The new generation of biofuels can be produced from plants that do not compete with the cultivation of foods. Furthermore, these fuels should be more environmentally friendly than classic fuels from biomass. Whether this so-called second generation of biofuels will deliver what it promises will be investigated in a comprehensive sustainability analysis for the study.

Timetable: project start: autumn 2008 | completion: spring 2010

Publications: study and abstract (German, French, English)

Project mandataries: Dr. Rainer Zah, Empa Dübendorf