In the coming decades, biofuels produced from sugar cane and other crops are expected to play a valuable part in the changing energy mix. They are a cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector, as long as their production is managed in a responsible way.
Our joint venture, Raízen (Shell interest 50%), in Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugar-cane ethanol. We also buy and blend biofuels into conventional fuels. We invest in advanced biofuels made from plant and crop waste. These are expected to further improve the sustainability of biofuels and increase production from the same amount of land.
Producing biofuels with Raízen
The use of sugar-cane ethanol produces 70% less CO2 emissions than conventional petrol. In 2015, Raízen produced more than 2 billion litres of low-carbon ethanol from Brazilian sugar cane.
The company’s production process is designed to minimise its environmental footprint. By-products are recycled as natural fertilisers. Waste sugar-cane fibres are used as fuel to generate electricity for the mills or exported to the grid. The sugar cane is grown using only natural rainfall, water recycled from the production process and irrigation on a small area. Raízen’s harvesting process is already 98% mechanised which improves worker conditions and operational efficiency.
Raízen was the first company to certify a sugar-cane mill using the Bonsucro sustainability standard in 2011. Bonsucro’s robust social and environmental standards are independently audited and certified. At the end of 2015, 13 of Raízen’s 24 sugar-cane mills were certified to the Bonsucro standard. Raízen is also working in partnership with the non-governmental organisations, Imaflora and Solidaridad, to support its third-party sugarcane suppliers to become more sustainable producers.
Shell currently buys biofuels from more than 100 suppliers around the world for blending with conventional fuels. In 2015, we used around 9.5 billion litres of biofuels in the petrol and diesel we sold worldwide – making us one of the largest blenders and distributors of biofuels globally.
Nearly all of the contracts with our suppliers of biofuels that we purchase for blending contain environmental and social clauses. These requirements aim to protect human rights and the biodiversity of ecosystems. We also continue to work on increasing the proportion of independently certified volumes. In 2015, around 40% of these volumes were certified as sustainable by an independent auditor, working to standards set out in the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive.
We support the adoption of international standards including the Round Table on Responsible Soy, the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Bonsucro for sugar cane. Every year, 100% of the palm oil that Shell blends is either independently certified by RSPO or the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification, or covered by offsets from GreenPalm.
In 2015, Shell completed a project with Patum Vegetable Oil in Thailand that helped farmers to meet RSPO standards. Around 800 farmers were successfully audited and received RSPO certification, which increased the availability of certified material by around 15,000 tonnes. We are also working to increase the purchase of independently certified sustainable sugar-cane ethanol and soy biodiesel.
Developing advanced biofuels
We continue to invest in new ways to produce biofuels from sustainable feedstocks such as waste and cellulosic biomass. Shell has three pilot plants at different stages of construction in the USA and India. The pilot plants will convert cellulosic biomass, which is non-food plants and waste, into a range of products, including petrol, diesel, aviation fuel and ethanol.
In addition, in 2015 Raízen opened its cellulosic ethanol plant at its Costa Pinto mill in Brazil. It is expected to produce 40 million litres a year of advanced biofuels from sugar-cane residues.