A New study conducted by nova-Institute and ordered by CropEnergies, which will be presented and discussed for the first time in Brussels on 26 September 2017, conducts quantitative and qualitative sustainability assessment of biofuels against the background of the EU’s REDII negotiations. This comprehensive sustainability assessment carried out by the German company led by Michael Caurs “shows that first generation bioethanol is as advantageous as second generation bioethanol for a feasible climate strategy”. According the nova-Institute “the results clearly indicate that the systematic discrimination against first generation biofuels of the current Commission proposal is in no way founded on scientific evidence. It would be counterproductive to further lower the share of first generation fuels in the EU’s energy mix”.
Twelve main criteria were selected in order to evaluate the sustainability of first and second generation bioethanol. The criteria selection was based on the most current standards and certification systems of bio-based fuels and materials, including a wide range of environmental, social and economic aspects. A dedicated focus was put on food security due to the continued allegations towards first generation biofuels that they cause harm to food security.
The analysis of twelve different sustainability criteria shows that all of the researched bioethanol feedstocks offer significant strengths, but also weaknesses in terms of sustainability. All feedstocks realise substantial reductions of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). While second generation fuels perform better in this regard, this effect is strongly relativised, when offset against the abatement costs. Reducing GHG emissions through second generation biofuels is a rather expensive way to mitigate climate change.
When it comes to the often-criticised negative impact on food security of first generation biofuels, the evidence points into a different direction. The competition for arable land is counterbalanced by the excellent land efficiency of first generation crops (especially sugar beet) and protein-rich co-products (especially wheat and corn). In this regard, the utilisation of short rotation coppice (SRC) for biofuels poses much stronger competition for arable land, since they use up much larger acreages of arable land and provide no protein-rich co-products.
According to the nova-Institute, “the results clearly show that the systematic discrimination against first generation biofuels of the current Commission proposal is in no way founded on scientific evidence. On the way to a climate-friendly Europe, biofuels made from any kind of feedstock offer advantages in terms of GHG emission reductions and should indiscriminately be part of a viable transitional strategy towards low-emission mobility, as long as they adhere to sustainability criteria”.
The authors recommend keeping the existing 7% for food-crop based fuels and not lowering the share of first generation fuels further in the REDII. The report analyses the strength and weaknesses of all biomass feedstocks for bioethanol production by criteria such as GHG footprint, GHG abatement costs, land use efficiency, food security, protein-rich co-products, employment, rural development, livelihood of famers and foresters, LUC / iLUC, logistic, infrastructure, availability, traceability, social impacts, biodiversity and air and soil quality.
The short version of the study “Sustainable First and Second Generation Bioethanol for Europe” is available at www.bio-based.eu/policy. The long version will be published there as well in the coming week.