The potential for biofuels systems to provide clean energy and reduce dependence on petroleum for energy supply has been the topic of much enthusiastic public and private discussion. The discussions to date, however, have focused primarily on the technological aspects and challenges of such systems and on their relative efficiencies with respect to energy demand and carbon dioxide emission. The discussions have paid little attention to the broader set of environmental, resource, and trade issues associated with the development and implementation of biofuels systems. 

The Stanford Woods Institute brought together 40 leading representatives of corporate, investment, government, NGO, and academic communities to examine this broader set of issues. Participants explored the challenges and opportunities of biofuels adoption in five important areas: food, agriculture, and trade; land use and conservation; water resources; greenhouse gases and climate (including non-CO2 emissions); and air quality. The dialogue resulted in a series of findings including: some environmental benefits of corn ethanol and soy biodiesel may be overstated; how a transition to biofuels is implemented - the actions taken now - will significantly affect the nature and magnitude of biofuels' environmental and social welfare impacts; and innovation in high-leverage areas such as cellulosic technology, variable-feedstock processors and sustainably achieved crop yields should be pursued.