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Eco-efficient biorefineries: Techno-fix for resource constraints?

Les Levidow


An eco-efficient bioeconomy has been widely promoted to alleviate resource constraints of rising global demand. An integrated, diversified biorefinery would convert diverse non-food biomass into valuable products, thus providing input-substitutes for fossil fuels within current infrastructures. This agenda intensifies various resource burdens and market competition to supply cheap biomass. Biorefinery innovation trajectories have the same drivers as the current production-consumption patterns expanding global demand for food, feed, fuel, etc. More efficient, flexible conversion of biomass will strengthen financial incentives to intensify resource extraction, especially by industrialising agri-forestry systems. Such a techno-fix depends on cheapening resource supplies without paying for their societal and environmental costs.

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Notes de l’auteur

Acknowledgements: Some research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme under grant agreement n° 217647, entitled ‘Co-operative Research on Environmental Problems in Europe’ (CREPE) during 2008-10. Thanks to participants’ comments in the biorefineries session at the 2014 conference of the European Society for Ecological Economics (ESEE). For helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper, thanks to the journal’s two reviewers and Rachel Smolker.

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Benignly replacing oil?
Benignly substituting for animal feed?
EU debate over future biorefineries
Integrating industrial sectors
Subsidising scale-up
Technofixes: critical perspectives
Techno-fix for resource constraints?

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A future bioeconomy has been widely promoted as crucial means to alleviate constraints of rising global demand for natural resources. Policy and industrial agendas together envisage biorefineries which could more efficiently convert renewable biomass, preferably non-food material and bio-waste. Its conversion would yield diverse products plus energy, thus substituting for fossil fuels.

For such conversion, a biorefinery is ‘the sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of marketable products’, as defined by the International Energy Agency (IEA, 2014). It would be made sustainable by technoscientific advance: Given ‘the growing demand for food, energy and water… only the use of new technologies will allow us to bridge the gap between economic growth and environmental sustainability in the long run’ (WEF, 2010). Contrary to such claims for future benefits, skeptics have anticipated various harms from expanding biorefineries.

Starting from such debates, this review ...

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Référence électronique

Les Levidow, « Eco-efficient biorefineries: Techno-fix for resource constraints? », Économie rurale [En ligne], 349-350 | septembre-novembre 2015, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2017, consulté le 24 janvier 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/economierurale.4729

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