This chapter provides a background for consideration of the sustainability of biofuels in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). Facing the twin problems of increasingly scarce and risky petroleum resources and global climate change, many nations are turning to biofuels for the transportation sector. For several decades, the world leaders in biofuels production and use have been, by far, Brazil and most recently the USA. These programs have been considered to be in the national interest, and have been subsidized by governments to varying degrees until more recently. However, the sustainability of biofuels production has come under serious challenge, including their effect on greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity, deforestation, water use and pollution, food security, labor practices, among other issues. The first generation of biofuels in LAC has relied upon feedstocks that are food based, primarily sugarcane and soybeans, and conversion to non-food-based, second-generation biofuels has been extremely slow. An overview will be provided of numerous sustainability concerns, challenges, and policy responses, including nongovernmental organization governance and certification standards and schemes for biofuel and feedstock production. Given the already large export markets for US and Brazilian ethanol, and for Argentinean biodiesel, greater coordination between national biofuels sustainability programs will be essential to their successful implementation.


Biodiesel Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) Ethanol European Union Renewable Energy Directive (EU RED) Feedstock Food security Greenhouse gases Land-use change Soybeans Soy oil Sugarcane 


  1. ActionAid (2008) Las plantaciones para agrocombustibles y la pérdida de tierras para la producción de alimentos en Guatemala. ActionAid, Guatemala CityGoogle Scholar
  2. ActionAid (2012) Fueling the food crisis: the cost to developing countries of US corn ethanol expansion. Accessed 17 May 2013
  3. Alesina A, Rodrik D (1994) Distributive politics and economic growth. Q J Econ 109(2):465–490CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arima EY, Richards P, Walker R, Caldas MM (2011) Statistical confirmation of indirect land use change in the Brazilian Amazon. Environ Res Lett 6(2):024010. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/6/2/024010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Babcock BA (2012) The impact of US biofuel policies on agricultural price levels and volatility. China Agr Econ Rev 4(4):407–426Google Scholar
  6. Bailis R, Baka J (2010) Greenhouse gas emissions and land use change from Jatropha curcas-based jet fuel in Brazil. Environ Sci Technol 44(22):8684–8691Google Scholar
  7. Bailis R, Baka J (2011) Constructing sustainable biofuels: governance of the emerging biofuel economy. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 101(4):827–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bailis R, Kavlak G (2013) Environmental implications of Jatropha biofuel from a silvi-pastoral production system in central-west Brazil. Environ Sci Technol 47(14):8042–8050Google Scholar
  9. Barros S (2012) Brazil: biofuels annual. GAIN Report Number: BR12013, Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  10. BNDES (2008) Sugar cane-based bioethanol: energy for sustainable development. Rio de Janeiro, Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Economico e Social (BNDES), 300Google Scholar
  11. Borjesson P (2009) Good or bad bioethanol from a greenhouse gas perspective—what determines this? Appl Energy 86(5):589–594CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bonsucro (2011) Bonsucro production standard including Bonsucro EU production standard. London. Accessed 7 June 2013
  13. CARB (2009) Proposed regulation to implement the low carbon fuel standard, Vol I. California Air Resources Board, SacramentoGoogle Scholar
  14. Carolan MS (2009) A sociological look at biofuels: ethanol in the early decades of the twentieth century and lessons for today. Rural Sociol 74(1):86–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. CEPEA (2012) Indicador soja CEPEA/ESALQ—paraná. Accessed 24 April 2013
  16. Chum H et al (2011) Bioenergy. In: Edenhofer O et al (ed) IPCC special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. Cotula L, Dyer N, Vermeulen S (2008) Fuelling exclusion? The biofuels boom and poor people’s access to land. FAO and IIED, RomeGoogle Scholar
  18. Cowie S (2011) U.S. opens market for Brazilian ethanol. The Rio Times. Accessed 27 Dec 2011Google Scholar
  19. Dauvergne P, Neville KJ (2009) The changing north-south and south-south political economy of biofuels. Third World Q 30(6):1087–1102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Delvenne P, Vasen F, Vara AM (2013) The “soy-ization” of Argentina: the dynamics of the “globalized” privatization regime in a peripheral context. Technol Soc 35(2):153–162CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dos Santos S (2007) The tainted grail of Brazilian ethanol: achieving oil independence but who has borne the cost and paid the price? NY City L Rev 11(1):61–93Google Scholar
  22. EIA (Energy Information Administration) (2012) International energy statistics: biofuels production. & pid=80 & aid=1 & cid=r1,r2, & syid=2008 & eyid=2010 & unit=TBPD. Accessed 6 May 2013
  23. Elia Neto A (2005) Captação e uso de água no processamento da cana-de-açúcar. In: Macedo I (ed) A energia da cana-de-açúcar: doze estudos sobre a agroindústria da cana-de-açúcar no Brasil e a sua sustentabilidade. UNICA, São Paulo, pp 108–115Google Scholar
  24. EPA (2010) Renewable fuel standard program (RFS2) regulatory impact analysis. US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  25. European Union (2009) Directive 2009/28/EC of the European Parliament. Official J Eur Union L 140(5.6.2009):16–62Google Scholar
  26. FAOSTAT (2013) FAOSTAT detailed trade flows. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, RomeGoogle Scholar
  27. FAPRI (Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute) (2009) 2009 US and world agricultural outlook. Accessed 7 June 2013
  28. Fargione J, Hill J, Tilman D, Polasky S, Hawthorne P (2008) Land clearing and the biofuel carbon debt. Science 319(5867):1235–1238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Farinelli B, Carter CA, Lin CYC, Sumner DA (2009) Imported demand for Brazilian ethanol: a cross-country analysis. J Clean Prod 17(1):S9–S17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ferranti DM de (2004) Inequality in Latin America: breaking with history? World Bank, Washington DCCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Fitzherbert EB, Struebig MJ, Morel A, Danielsen F, Bruhl CA, Donald PF, Phalan B (2008) How will oil palm expansion affect biodiversity? Trends Ecol Evol 23(10):538–545CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gao Y, Skutsch M, Drigo R, Pacheco P, Masera O (2011) Assessing deforestation from biofuels: methodological challenges. Appl Geogr 31(2):508–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gelder JW van, Dros JM (2006) From rainforest to chicken breast: effects of soybean cultivation for animal feed on people and nature in the Amazon region—a chain of custody study, study commissioned by Milieudefensie/Friends of the Earth Netherlands and CordaidGoogle Scholar
  34. Gomes M, Biondi A, Brianezi T, Glass V (2009) Brazil of biofuels: impacts of crops on land, environment and society—soybean and castor bean 2009; Amigos da Terra—Amazônia Brasileira, Centro de Tecnologia Alternativa (CTA), Instituto Centro de Vida (ICV), Portal Beef Point, Universidade Federal de Rondônia (UniR), Brasilia, p 57Google Scholar
  35. Goldemberg J, Coelho ST, Nastari PM, Lucon O (2004) Ethanol learning curve-the Brazilian experience. Biomass Bioenerg 26(3):301–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gorter H de, Drabik D, Just DR (2013) How biofuels policies affect the level of grains and oilseed prices: theory, models and evidence. Glob Food Secur 2(2):82–88Google Scholar
  37. Gutiérrez-Vélez V, DeFries R, Pinedo-Vasquez M, Uriarte M, Padoch C, Baethgen W, Fernandes K, Lim Y (2011) High-yield oil palm expansion spares land at the expense of forests in the Peruvian Amazon. Environ Res Lett 6(4):044029CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hira A, Oliveria LG de (2009) No substitute for oil? How Brazil developed its ethanol industry. Energ Policy 37(6):2450–2456CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hoefnagels R, Smeets E, Faaij A (2010) Greenhouse gas footprints of different biofuel production systems. Renew Sust Energ Rev 14(7):1661–1694CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. ISCC (International Sustainability & Carbon Certification) (2012) ISCC plus 202. Sustainability requirements for the production of biomass, V 1.0. Accessed 16 May 2013
  41. Janssen R, Rutz DD (2011) Sustainability of biofuels in Latin America: risks and opportunities. Energ Policy 39(10):5717–5725CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Kampa M, Castanas E (2008) Human health effects of air pollution. Environ Pollut 151(2):362–367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Keleman A, Raño HG (2011) The Mexican tortilla crisis of 2007: the impacts of grain-price increases on food-production chains. Dev Practice 21(4–5):550–565CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lapola DM, Schaldach R, Alcamo J, Bondeau A, Koch J, Koelking C, Priess JA (2010) Indirect land-use changes can overcome carbon savings from biofuels in Brazil. P Natl Acad Sci USA 107(8):3388–3393. doi:10.1073/pnas.0907318107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Martin A (2008) Fuel choices, food crises and finger-pointing. The New York Times. Accessed 16 May 2013. Accessed 15 April 2008
  46. Maughan MJ (2011) Land grabs and oil palm in Colombia. International conference on global land grabbing, Sussex University, International Institute of Social Studies in The HagueGoogle Scholar
  47. Meyer PJ (2010) Brazil-U.S. relations. Congressional Research Service, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  48. MVO (2009) Market analysis: oils and fats for fuel. 40. Product Board for Margarine, Fats and Oils, Rijswijk, the NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  49. National Research Council (2008) Water implications of biofuels production in the United States. National Academies Press, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  50. Nepstad DC, Stickler CM, Almeida OT (2006) Globalization of the Amazon soy and beef industries: opportunities for conservation. Conserv Biol 20(6):1595–1603CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Patzek TW (2004) Thermodynamics of the maize-ethanol biofuel cycle. Crit Rev Plant Sci 23(6):519–567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Peskett L, Slater R, Stevens C, Dufey A (2008) Biofuels, agriculture and poverty reduction. Trade & Industry Monitor, pp 45–52. Accessed 24 July 2013
  53. Pimentel D, Patzek TW (2005) Ethanol production using maize, switchgrass, and wood; biodiesel production using soybeans and sunflower. Nat Resourc Res 14(1):65–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Robertson GP, Dale VH, Doering OC, Hamburg SP, Melillo JM, Wander MM, Parton WJ, Adler PR, Barney JN, Cruse RM, Duke CS, Fearnside PM, Follett RF, Gibbs HK, Goldemberg J, Mladenoff DJ, Ojima D, Palmer MW, Sharpley A, Wallace L, Weathers KC, Wiens JA, Wilhelm WW (2008) Sustainable biofuels redux. Science 322(5898):49–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rosenthal E (2013) As biofuel demand grows, so do Guatemala’s hunger pangs. The New York Times, 5 January 2013. &_r=0. Accessed 28 April 2013
  56. Rosillo-Calle F, Pelkmans L, Walter A (2009) A global overview of vegetable oils, with reference to biodiesel. A report to the IEA Bioenergy Task 40. Accessed 17 May 2013
  57. RSB (Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials) (2010) RSB principles and criteria for sustainable biofuel production, RSB Reference Code: RSB-STD-01–001 (Version 2.0), Lausanne. Accessed 16 May 2013
  58. RSB (Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials) (2012a) RSB generic chain of custody standard, RSB Reference Code: RSB-STD-20-001, Lausanne. Accessed 16 May 2013
  59. RSB (Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials) (2012b) RSB Screening Tool, RSB Reference Code: RSB-GUI-01-002-02 (Version 2.3) Lausanne. Accessed 21 May 2013
  60. RSB (Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials) (2012c) RSB guidelines for land rights. École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland, Accessed 22 May 2013
  61. RSPO (2013) RSPO principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil production. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm OilGoogle Scholar
  62. RTRS (2010) RTRS standard for responsible soy production version 1.0. Buenos Aires, RTRS International Technical Group (ITG)Google Scholar
  63. Runge CF, Senauer B (2007) How biofuels could starve the poor. Foreign Aff 86(3):41–53Google Scholar
  64. Sagars AD, Kartha S (2007) Bioenergy and sustainable development? Annu Rev Env Resour 32:131–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Skone TJ, Gerdes K (2008) Development of baseline data and analysis of greenhouse gas emissions of petroleum-based fuels. US Department of Energy, National Energy Technology Laboratory, Office of Systems, Analysis and Planning, Washington DCGoogle Scholar
  66. Solomon BD (2010a) Biofuels and sustainability. Ann NY Acad Sci 1185:119–134CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Solomon BD (2010b) The transition to second generation biofuels in the United States: will it be feasible and sustainable? Geogr Rund (Int Edn) 6(4):16–20Google Scholar
  68. Solomon BD, Barnes J, Halvorsen KE (2007) Grain and cellulosic ethanol: history, economics, and energy policy. Biomass Bioenerg 31(6):416–425CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Sorda G, Banse M, Kemfert C (2010) An overview of biofuel policies across the world. Energ Policy 38(11):6977–6988CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Souza S de, Pacca S,Turra deAM, Borges JLB (2010) Greenhouse gas emissions and energy balance of palm oil biofuel. Renew Energ 35(11):2552–2561Google Scholar
  71. Tomei J, Upham P (2009) Argentinean soy-based biodiesel: an introduction to production and impacts. Energ Policy 37(10):3890–3898CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. UNICA (2013) Histórico de exportação mensal de etanol pelo Brasil. Accessed 16 April 2013
  73. USDA (2013a) Agricultural chemical usage—field crops and potatoes. USDA, Economics, statistics and market information system. Accessed 14 May 2013
  74. USDA (2013b) US corn trade. USDA, Economic Research Service. Accessed 17 May 2013
  75. Van Dam J, Junginger M, Faaij APC (2010) From the global efforts on certification of bioenergy towards an integrated approach based on sustainable land use planning. Renew Sust Energ Rev 14(9):2445–2472CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Vidal J (2007) Global food crisis looms as climate change and fuel shortages bite. The Guardian, 3 November 2007. Accessed 16 May 2013
  77. Von Braun J, Meinzen-Dick RS (2009) “Land grabbing” by foreign investors in developing countries: risks and opportunities, IFPRI Policy Brief 13. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  78. Wahl N, Hildebrandt T, Moser C, Lüdeke-Freund F, Averdunk KBR, Barua K, Burritt R, Groeneveld J, Klein A, Kügemann MWD, Schaltegger S, Zelt T (2012) Insights into jatropha projects worldwide: key facts & figures from a global survey. Centre for Sustainability Management (CSM), Leuphana University Lüneburg, Germany. Accessed 15 July 2013
  79. Welch C (2006) Globalization and the transformation of work in rural Brazil: agribusiness, rural labor unions, and peasant mobilization. Int Labor Work-Class 70(1):35–60Google Scholar
  80. Wicke B, Verweij P, Meijl H van, Vuuren DP van, Faaij APC (2012) Indirect land use change: review of existing models and strategies for mitigation. Biofuels 3(1):87–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Yacobucci BD (2008) Ethanol imports and the Caribbean Basin Initiative. Updated version. Congressional Research Service, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  82. Yacobucci BD, Bracmort K (2010) Calculation of lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Congressional Research Service, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  83. Zoomers A (2010) Globalisation and the foreignisation of space: seven processes driving the current global land grab. J Peasant Stud 37(2):429–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social SciencesMichigan Technological UniversityHoughtonUSA
  2. 2.Yale School of Forestry & Environmental StudiesNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations