Under its proposal for a recast of the Renewable Energy Directive for 2021-2030, the European Commission cut the limit for crop-based (first generation) biofuels in Europe’s transport energy mix from 7% to 3.8%.
Behind this decision were concerns that biofuels had not delivered the environmental benefits they had promised, compared to fossil fuels, and heavy criticism of the policy’s impact on land use and food prices.
While the bioethanol industry, which uses crops such as beets, wheat and sugar cane, claims its fuels do not compete for agricultural land with food production and bring more than 65% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions compared to petrol, the impact of biodiesel is more controversial.
Biodiesel accounts for around 80% of the EU biofuels market. Around one-third of this is made from palm oil, with the remainder made from crops such as rapeseed and soy.
Demand for palm oil is a major driver of deforestation in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia. According to clean transport NGO Transport and Environment, the climate impact of EU biodiesel is on average 80% worse than fossil diesel, when emissions from indirect land-use change (ILUC) are taken into account.
The Commission is turning to advanced (second generation) biofuels, made from wastes and residues, to address these concerns. But biofuels producers have already warned that this approach is fundamentally flawed.
“The proposal as presented by the Commission will not achieve the desired target of accelerating the market penetration of advanced biofuels,” Stefan Schreiber, the head of business development at German biofuel company Verbio, told EURACTIV.com.
Schreiber stressed that the proposal to phase out first generation biofuels by 2030 is “ruining investors’ confidence because the majority of investments in advanced biofuels will come from conventional biofuel producers”.
Without its existing large investments in first generation biofuels, the company would not be able to research and produce second generation biofuels, he added. Verbio currently produces methane, an advanced biofuel, from the residues left over from its crop-based ethanol production.
“It is worth mentioning that most standalone projects of advanced biofuels have failed, worldwide. The very few successful projects are co-locations with conventional biofuels,” Schreiber said.
“For investors, conventional and advanced biofuels form a tandem — one does not exist without the other,” Managing Director of the German biofuels industry association (VDB) Elmar Baumann said. “Therefore we need EU-wide binding targets for conventional biofuels until 2030, otherwise investment in advanced biofuels and other renewables in transport will fail to appear.”