The biofuel project is an agro-industrial development and politically contested policy process where governments increasingly become global actors. European Union (EU) biofuels policy rests upon arguments about societal benefits of three main kinds - namely, environmental protection (especially greenhouse gas savings), energy security and rural development, especially in the global South. Each argument involves optimistic assumptions about what the putative benefits mean and how they can be fulfilled. After examining those assumptions, we compare them with experiences in three countries - Germany, Brazil and Mozambique - which have various links to each other and to the EU through biofuels. In those case studies, there are fundamental contradictions between EU policy assumptions and practices in the real world, involving frictional encounters among biofuel promoters as well as with people adversely affected. Such contradictions may intensify with the future rise of biofuels and so warrant systematic attention.