EU Parliament supports shift towards advanced biofuels

A draft law to cap crop-derived biofuel production and accelerate the shift to alternative sources was voted by Parliament on Tuesday. It aims to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by the growing use of farm land for biofuel crops. Parliament has been calling since 2008 for the ILUC factor to be taken into account in EU biofuels policy, while biofuels grown on farm land have received up to €10 billion per year in public subsidies.

“We succeeded in getting a very technical, technological and ideological file to go ahead”, said lead MEP Nils Torvalds (ALDE, FI), after Parliament endorsed the law (the draft had already been agreed informally by MEPs and ministers). But Mr Torvalds also wondered aloud whether the law, as amended, was tough enough. “We had much higher goals. Both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and technological progress. If Europe doesn’t move forward, it will be left behind. We also have the systemic problem of the blocking minority in Council, which sometimes develops into a dictatorship of the minority, with member states who are afraid of the future”, he added.

Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The new law says that: first-generation biofuels (from crops grown on agricultural land) should account for no more than 7% of energy consumption in transport by 2020; fuel suppliers must report to EU countries and the EU Commission the estimated level of GHG emissions caused by “indirect land-use change” (ILUC), i.e. freeing up more to grow food crops, in order to offset that switched to biofuel production; the Commission must report and publish data on ILUC-related emissions, and the Commission must report back to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on the scope for including ILUC emission figures in the existing sustainability criteria.

Using farmland to produce biofuel crops reduces the area available for food crops. This adds to pressure to free up more land, e.g. through deforestation, to grow more food – a process known as indirect land use change (ILUC). But deforestation increases greenhouse gas emissions, which may cancel out part or in some cases even all of the beneficial effects of using biofuels.

EU member states will have to set a national target, no later than 18 months after the EU directive enters into force, for the share of advanced biofuels, e.g. those sourced from certain types of waste and residues and new sources such as seaweed, in total transport consumption. Member states must enact the legislation by 2017.

Advanced biofuels industry, represented by Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels (LSB), a group composed by the Chief Executive Officers of  Leading European biofuel producers and European airlines, welcomes the conclusion of ILUC file and its acknowledgement of the benefits of advanced biofuels. According LSB, “After years of discussion, however, the compromise that was endorsed by the European Parliament lacks concrete and harmonized measures”.

“Our industry has been calling for regulatory certainty for years. What has been agreed now is a first step but uncertainty continues. An opportunity to kick start the roll out of advanced biofuels in the EU has been missed“, states Marko Janhunen, Chair of LSB and Vice President of UPM Biorefining.

LSB has engaged in the ILUC legislative process by providing information on the benefits of advanced biofuels: Very high reduction of GHG emissions, increased energy security, utilising domestic raw materials, building on European technological leadership, and creating jobs in rural areas of the EU.

Marko Janhunen continues: “Our industry provides solutions to EU’s climate, energy, environmental and industrial policy. All of these subjects are at the core of EU policy today. We hope that Member States will show leadership and implement the sub-target in their national policy creating the certainty needed for the new and emerging advanced biofuels industry”.

LSB continues to engage with Member States that are keen to promote advanced biofuels. In those Member States where policy has focused on advanced biofuels, most investments have materialised.

“We call for genuine discussions now on how to reduce GHG emissions in the transport sector post-2020.  To capture the potential of GHG reduction, job creation, increased energy security and high-tech investments by advanced biofuels, concrete EU policy measures and actions are needed to justify investments”, Marko Janhunen concludes.

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