Facts and Figures

At global level, irrigation water allocated to biofuel production is estimated at 2%

  • Around 10% of the total energy supply comes from biomass, and most of that (80%) comes from the ‘traditional’ biomass sources of wood, dung and crop residues.
  • About 5% of biomass is used to produce liquid biofuel for transport, which currently accounts for less than 2% of transport energy worldwide.
  • The production of bioethanol, from sugarcane, corn, sugar beet, wheat and sorghum, tripled between 2000 and 2007 to an estimated 77 billion litres in 2008.
  • The biodiesel share of the diesel transport fuel market was estimated at 0.5% for the United States, 1.1% for Brazil and 3.0% for the European Union.
  • The global potential of conventional biofuel is limited by the availability of suitable land and water for crops and the high cost of most conventional technologies. Technically, up to 20 exajoules from conventional ethanol and biodiesel, meeting 11% of total demand for liquid fuels in the transport sector, could be possible by 2050.
  • Among current technologies only ethanol produced from sugarcane in Brazil, ethanol produced as a by-product of cellulose production (as in Sweden and Switzerland) and biodiesel produced from animal fats and used cooking oil can substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared with gasoline and mineral diesel. The study concludes that all other conventional bioenergy technologies typically deliver greenhouse gas emissions reductions of less than 40% compared with their fossil fuel alternatives.
  • Globally, irrigation water allocated to biofuel production is estimated at 44 km3, or 2% of all irrigation water. Under current production conditions it takes an average of roughly 2,500 litres of water (about 820 litres of it irrigation water) to produce 1 litre of liquid biofuel (the same amount needed on average to produce food for one person for one day).
  • The share of irrigation water used for biofuel production is negligible in Brazil and the European Union and is estimated to be 2% in China and 3% in the United States.
  • Implementing all current national biofuel policies and plans would take 30 million hectares of cropland and 180 km3 of additional irrigation water.
  • More than one-third of maize production in the United States in 2008 was being used to produce ethanol and about half the vegetable oils produced in the European Union were being used for biodiesel fuel. 
  • Although the impact is extremely difficult to assess, bioenergy production is estimated to have caused up to 70%-75% of the rise in the global prices of some food stocks, including approximately 70% of the increase in maize prices.

Related themes: Energy; Food and Agriculture; Allocating Water

Back to top