Biofuel: Definition, Advantages and Controversies

Tom Bengaouer
Responsable Communication & Marketing

Biofuel, defined in 2009 by a European Commission directive, refers to "liquid or gaseous fuels for means of transport produced from biomass", i.e. fuels from non-fossil biological sources. There are many such sources, and when we refer to biofuels not derived from forest biomass or algae, we may also use the term "agrofuel".  Biofuels are seen as alternative fuels, reinforcing energy independence, reducing vehicle dependence on oil and anticipating the depletion of its reserves. They also offer a range of social and environmental benefits, such as reduced emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides (Nox, SOx).  They also support agricultural, forestry and industrial activity, creating jobs in rural areas.

What are the advantages of biofuels over fossil fuels?

Biofuels are an alternative to fossil fuels, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promote the energy transition.

Classified into two generations, they can be produced from different feedstocks. 1st generation biofuels, also known as "conventional biofuels", are derived from feedstocks that can be used in the human or animal food chain.

By contrast, 2nd-generation biofuels, known as "advanced biofuels", are produced from biomass derived from agricultural residues, forestry waste or dedicated crops.

1st generation biofuels have been criticized for their impact on food and deforestation, leading to stricter regulations.

The social and environmental challenges of biofuels

Biofuels have become a major issue on the global political agenda, particularly in Europe and France, in response to the problems of climate change and dependence on fossil fuels. The European Energy-Climate Framework 2020-2030 aims to increase the share of renewable energies, including biofuels. Their use contributes to reducing GHG emissions and supports agriculture, industry and rural employment. However, controversy persists over their real environmental impact and their competitiveness in relation to fossil fuels.

What types of bioessences are there?

Biofuels are substitutes for gasoline. They include ethanol, derived from various agricultural sources such as beet, cereals and grapes. Ethanol is blended with fossil gasoline in various proportions (SP95-E5, SP95-E10, E85) or distributed as ED95 for specific diesel engines. ETBE is a non-renewable agrofuel produced from vegetable ethanol and chemical isobutene. Synthetic biofuels are made from vegetable oils in industrial refinery processes.

What types of biodiesel are there?

Biodiesels are substitutes for diesel fuel. They are produced from vegetable, animal or waste oils. FAMEs (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester) are the most common biodiesels, with sub-categories such as EMHA, EMHV and EMHU, depending on the origin of the oils. In 2019, FAMEs accounted for the bulk of biofuels incorporated into diesel, although there are other synthetic biodiesels such as HVO and BTL biodiesel. These biogasoles are the result of complex, time-consuming industrial processes.

Controversies surrounding biofuels

The use of biofuels has given rise to criticism and debate as to their real contribution to reducing GHG emissions, their ecological footprint, and their economic competitiveness compared with fossil fuels. Despite this, they play a crucial role in the energy transition in transport and the fight against climate change. Researchers are not reducing their efforts to improve production, efficiency and sustainability.

The French biodiesel industry and its economic role

France occupies an important position as a European biodiesel producer, with around 3% of its agricultural land devoted to biodiesel production. This industry represents a major asset to the country's economic activity, generating 20,000 direct jobs and contributing to the quest for food and protein independence. It also plays an essential role in the development of the agricultural and industrial sector in France.


In conclusion, biofuels represent a promising alternative to fossil fuels, thanks to their many environmental and economic advantages. They enhance energy independence while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants. Despite controversies over their environmental impact and competition with food production, they play a crucial role in the energy transition and are enjoying strong growth in France as a biodiesel producer. Biofuels represent an opportunity to reconcile economic development and environmental protection, and to meet the world's energy needs in a sustainable way.

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