EU Must Increase Ethanol Use to Meet Targets

Renewable energy use in transport in all 28 EU members has been much less than projected in their National Renewable Energy Action Plans, with the gap widening. Actual ethanol consumption has remained relatively flat, in contrast to forecasts.
By Robert Wright | April 07, 2016

Europe’s renewable energy strategy, adopted in 2009, calls for 20 percent of the EU’s energy to be derived from renewable sources by 2020, with a subtarget of a minimum 10 percent renewables in the transport sector. Eligible renewable sources include biofuels, renewable hydrogen, renewable electricity and other sources, such as biogas. As a result, the Renewable Energy Directive has become a central pillar of Europe’s biofuels policy. With Europe’s transport sector 95 percent reliant on oil, this policy, depending on its implementation at the national level, could have a significant beneficial impact on increasing the use of renewable energy and reducing emissions.

Last year, the RED and Fuel Quality Directive were amended to address emissions associated with indirect land use change (ILUC), limiting crop-based biofuels to 7 percent of the final transport energy in 2020. The remaining 3 percent are to come from alternatives: biofuels from used cooking oil and animal fats (double counted); renewable electricity in rail (counted 2.5 times); renewable electricity in electric vehicles (counted 5 times); and advanced biofuels (double counted and with an indicative half percent subtarget).

All member states have complied with the obligation to transpose the original RED. However, the European Commission has brought cases against Poland and Spain for failure to properly implement sustainability criteria. So far, no member has transposed the ILUC amendments, although Spain has partially done so with the introduction of a cap of 7 percent on crop-based biofuels.

Most member states are assessing their individual options for meeting the RED target and ILUC directive, analyzing ways to easily and cost effectively reach the target, incorporating local fuel market conditions and biofuel production. Significant differences between member states are anticipated, which may further decrease the level of harmonization and negatively affect the internal market for biofuels in Europe.

Progress towards the RED’s 10 percent target for renewables in transport has been mixed. In its 2015 Renewable Energy Progress Report, the EC reported a collective share for renewables in 2014 of 5.7 percent in transport.  Thus, achieving the RED subtarget for 10 percent renewable energy use in transport will be “challenging but feasible.”

Renewable energy use in transport in all 28 EU members has been much less than projected in their National Renewable Energy Action Plans, with the gap widening. Transport consumption levels are 26 percent lower than forecast. In the case of fuel ethanol, the actual consumption has remained relatively flat, in clear contrast with the forecasted increase, as shown in the chart.

There is an urgent need for full and quick implementation of the ILUC directive and the roll out of higher biofuels blends by member states. In 2014, the overall incorporation rate of ethanol in the EU petrol pool was only 3.3 percent. This level must be raised if the member states are to reach the 10 percent target.

Given the great disparity between what member states forecasted and their actual use of renewables in transport, the EC should take remedial action against those who have deviated significantly. The EU ethanol industry needs guidance and long-term and stable rules to enable us to provide the needed biofuel volumes, both conventional and advanced. There is a clear need to build on the lessons learned so far when developing Europe’s post-2020 decarbonisation framework for transport. The EC needs to ensure members deliver on their renewable energy commitments in a timely manner.

Author: Robert Wright
Secretary General,
ePURE, the European Renewable Ethanol Association