Societal Motivations and Barriers in Biofuels Arena

by Sudipta Dasmhapatra

Introduction / Background

Understanding the public attitude, barriers to use and adoption of bioenergy crops and fuels is important due to varied stakeholder groups involved in the entire supply chain, beginning with landowners and ending with the consumers. Each member of the supply chain will have a different position about the industry based on their contribution to the market and the opportunities and challenges faced by them. For example, the forest landowners will more likely be interested in feedstock growth and production as the market grows whereas, the consumers will be more likely to be affected by the availability of the fuel economy of their vehicle.

This task focuses on exploring the perceptions of various stakeholder groups about the bioenergy industry to identify their knowledge and information gaps and needs to help develop targeted educational tools.

Fundamental Issue and Approach

Past studies on public perceptions of bioenergy have been either limited to measuring

only one particular stakeholder group or inadequate with respect to the size of the sample or response set for a comprehensive quantitative analysis. In addition, most studies measure only a small set of concepts related to the technology, environment or economics of bioenergy.

With a focused examination of various members of the supply chain, we operationalize “public perception” by measuring a comprehensive set of bioenergy issues focusing on not only the environment and economics but also the logistics and social dimensions. The stakeholder groups involved in this study include consumers, forest and farm landowners, investors, industry, government and non-government organizations.

In late Summer and Fall of 2013, we initiated data collection from consumers and forest and farm landowners in North Carolina.

Data was collected using electronic and mail surveys. By mid-September, we have received completed responses from 302 consumers and 238 forest and farm landowners.

Preliminary analysis of data from the consumer group indicates their desire for more information about how biofuels will impact vehicle performance. Findings also indicate consumer distrust in information available from government sources.

In addition to a bigger local market demand (economics), the Forest and farm landowner respondents indicate government cost-share programs and better tax incentives as two most important initiatives that would motivate them to produce and supply to the bioenergy industry. Figure 1 shows the main barriers reported by the landowners for participation in the bioenergy markets.

Primary barriers to feedstock production and supply reported by forest and farm landowners

Implications for Industry

Based on the preliminary findings it is obvious that clear and consistent information dissemination about performance of biofuels from a credible source is key to reduce skepticism from the consumer groups. Creation of a central body comprised of representatives of different stakeholders either at the national or regional level could be part of a solution for information source.

Additionally, deliberations on policy initiatives that support the growth of the market and provide incentives to the landowners would be required to involve the potential feedstock providers.