Biofuels sector employment rises 12% in 2017: IRENA

11 May 2018 |

Global employment in the biofuels sector expanded 12% last year to 1.93 million, as production of ethanol and biodiesel expanded in most major producing countries, renewable agency IRENA said in a report published on 8 May.

With the exception of Brazil, all major bioethanol producers were estimated to have reached new output peaks in 2017, IRENA said in its annual Renewable Energy and Jobs report.

Biodiesel production rose in producing countries like the US, but remained somewhat below previous levels in Argentina, Indonesia and the Philippines, and at much lower levels in China, the report added.

IRENA said its estimate that almost 2 million are employed in biofuels is based on the assumption that most of these jobs are generated in the agricultural value chain, such as planting and harvesting of feedstocks.

Only a small minority of jobs in the sector are high-paid employment in biofuel-processing facilities, and their operation and maintenance.

IRENA added that changes in biofuels employment do not necessarily equate to net job gains or losses.

“Oil palm, soybean and similar types of feedstock are used for a range of agricultural and commercial purposes in addition to the energy sector, and the composition of end-use demand is relatively fluid,” it said.

On a country-by-country basis, Brazil continued to have the biggest volume of jobs in liquid biofuels, with an estimated 795,000 people, which IRENA said was a small increase from the previous year as an increase in biodiesel jobs offset declines in the ethanol sector.

Employment in the sector also rose in the US, reaching 300,000, buoyed by record production of ethanol and biodiesel, the report said.

Although this year lobbyists on behalf of the sector have been unnerved by “demand destruction” from waivers to the country’s biofuels laws granted to refiners and the threat of retaliatory Chinese tariffs that could be applied to soybean and ethanol.

EU

An increase in biofuel output in the EU brought employment levels to 200,000 in 2017, IRENA said.

The agency didn’t make projections for the current year and in the longer term.

But lobby groups have acknowledged that employment levels in the EU’s biofuels industry may struggle to rise this year in view of production curtailments at several biofuels plants and the impact of rising biodiesel imports, particularly from Argentina and Indonesia.  

A much-vaunted expansion of advanced biofuels production in the EU has yet to gain traction as producers wait for the outcome of trilogue talks on the  bloc’s recast of its renewable energy directive.

South-East Asia

In Asia, which has around a fifth of biofuels jobs worldwide, employment levels in Indonesia fell and and Malaysia's rose, IRENA said.

Based on falling biofuels production last year, and using an “employment-factor” approach, IRENA estimates that around 180,000 people worked in Indonesia’s biodiesel sector in 2017, a 22% decline from 2016.

Rising biofuel output in neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand meant that employment levels reached around 133,000 people, with most of the jobs in feedstock supply.

Protecting jobs in Malaysia’s palm oil industry, which also supplies the food and cosmetics sectors, is cited by the country’s government as one of the main reasons for its intense lobbying of EU member states.

The European Parliament has proposed to exclude palm oil from RED II, citing the impact of the crop’s role on deforestation and diversity loss.

In Colombia, where biofuels production is estimated to have risen last year, the number of jobs in the biofuels sector may have reached almost 200,000 last year, “but it is unclear whether these represent full-time equivalents,” IRENA said.  

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