Can renewable energy power the world?
Can renewable energy power the world?

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Can renewable energy power the world?

4.9 Costing bioenergy

For most renewable energy systems, the initial capital cost is the major component of the energy cost, however bioenergy systems, unlike many other renewable energy technologies, can also have significant fuel costs. Energy crops, for example, must be planted, fertilised, protected against weeds and pests, harvested and transported.

On the other hand, EfW may have negative fuel costs in the form of savings in payments for disposal of wastes.

Table 4 Estimated costs of biofuels and the costs of fossil fuels (Biofuel prices in US cents per litre excluding any possible taxes)

Fuel Type 2006 (price/c l-1 2030 (price/cl-1)
Low High Low High
Petrol excluding tax 45 60
Petrol including tax (Europe) 150 200
Petrol including tax (USA) 80 80
Ethanol from sugar cane 25 50 25 35
Ethanol from maize 60 80 35 55
Ethanol from sugar beet 60 80 40 60
Ethanol from wheat 70 95 45 65
Ethanol from lignocellulose 80 110 25 65
Biodiesel from animal fats 40 55 49 50
Biodiesel from oilseeds 70 100 40 75

In 2008, the UK Royal Society produced estimates of current and possible future costs of a range of biofuels, as shown in Table 4. Ethanol from sugar cane is the cheapest biofuel, with biodiesel from surplus animal fats a reasonably close second. The data suggests that ethanol from lignocellulose is ultimately likely to be comparable in cost to ethanol from sugar cane.

The price of fossil fuels in 2030 seems unlikely to be less than the quoted 2006 price, which suggests that many of the biofuels could reach a comparable basic price to the consumer, depending on the taxation regime that is imposed.

Lastly for this week’s topics you will take a look at the future prospects for bioenergy.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has over 40 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus