Study confirms European ethanol’s low land use change impacts

By ePure | March 14, 2016

The European renewable ethanol association (ePURE) welcomes the recent publication of the European Commission’s long-awaited GLOBIOM study on the land use change (LUC) impacts of biofuels demand expected as a result of Europe’s 2020 climate and energy policy for transport. The GLOBIOM study finds that increased demand for European produced ethanol would have low impacts on land use change and confirms ethanol’s high net GHG savings credentials.

The study, conducted by a consortium made of IIASA, Ecofys and E4Tech on behalf of the European Commission, concludes that the increased demand for ethanol made from sugar and starch crops and cellulosic biomass will have significantly low impacts on land use change and low resultant LUC emissions. The study also concludes that the resulting increased demand for sugar and starch crops from ethanol production will collectively have no impact on food prices by 2020.

Specifically, the study finds that:

- Conventional ethanol feedstocks, such as sugar and starch crops, have much lower land use change emissions impacts than other biofuel feedstocks. For example, in Europe the key feedstocks used to produce ethanol would have LUC emissions of 14g CO2 e/MJ for maize, 15g CO2 e/MJ for sugar beet and 34g CO2 e/MJ for wheat.

- Cellulosic ethanol feedstocks similarly have a low or even positive LUC impact (16g CO2 e/MJ for straw ethanol, 0g CO2 e/MJ if a sustainable straw removal rate is introduced, -12g CO2 e/MJ and -29g CO2 e/MJ for perennials and short rotation crops).

- Land use change impacts and associated emissions can be much lower if abandoned land in the EU is used for biofuels production; yield increases occur as a result of biofuels demand; and/or peat drainage in Malaysia and Indonesia is halted.

This important study introduces the concept of avoided afforestation, the concept that biofuels demand can prevent agricultural land from being abandoned. Some abandoned agriculture land reverts to forest, thereby sequestering carbon. The study concludes that this phenomenon is for all practical purposes limited to Europe. Without this avoided afforestation, the LUC values of EU produced conventional ethanol would be even lower, even in the single digits.

ePURE believes that the overall findings of the study reconfirm the strong environmental credentials and high net GHG emission savings of European ethanol. With the European Commission currently assessing policy options to decarbonise transport post-2020, ePURE believes that policy makers should reflect on the GLOBIOM findings and use them as a guide to identify the type of biofuels that should be promoted in Europe after 2020.

"The GLOBIOM study confirms that European ethanol has low LUC impacts, makes a strong contribution to reducing GHG emissions in the transport sector and has little or no effect on food prices.

The study's findings clearly show that European ethanol, produced from sugar and starch crops and cellulosic biomass, has high net GHG emissions and is the type of good biofuel that Europe should promote if it is serious about achieving its 2030 renewables and climate ambitions. 

We urge European policy-makers to reflect on these findings and identify ways to promote and incentivise the use of biofuels that have high GHG savings and low LUC impacts, such as European ethanol", said Robert Wright, Secretary-General of ePURE.