In Europe, the Blend is the Trend

FROM THE JANUARY ISSUE: Study shows that E10 can be successful in Europe in the near-term, while E20 can be Europe's fuel in the future.
By Emmanuel Desplechin | December 17, 2019

Europeans continue to push their national governments and the European Union to raise the stakes in the fight against climate change. Several countries have found at least one way to respond to that outpouring of support with an action that can have an immediate impact on emissions reduction: adopting E10 as the standard petrol blend. And as new research shows, Europe could easily turn to even higher ethanol blends.

In recent months, three EU member states—Slovakia, Hungary and Lithuania—have decided to increase their use of renewable ethanol in transport to meet national climate and renewables targets. When they officially switch to E10 at the beginning of 2020, those countries will join a growing list of member states that promote renewable ethanol use as a climate and air-quality solution.

While most EU member states continue to use E5 petrol (containing up to 5 percent renewable ethanol), E10 is gaining traction. Nine countries across the EU already use E10 petrol to reduce emissions: Belgium, Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Romania.

The most recent national rollouts of E10, including in October in the Netherlands, have gone smoothly and consumers have responded positively to the fuel.

As the trend has grown, it’s become clear that all of the supposed obstacles to introducing E10 have been overcome: E10 has been introduced in countries with car fleets older than Europe’s average; it has been introduced in countries with two or three fuel grade choices at the pumps; and it has been introduced both before and after the introduction of fuel labelling at the pump and on new cars.

In other words, there’s no reason E10 shouldn’t be standard in all EU countries, helping reduce emissions from cars with internal combustion engines, which will be prevalent on Europe’s roads for decades to come. Its rollout should also pave the way for higher blends, following the example of other countries around the world that have turned to renewable ethanol as an effective decarbonization solution.

Fortunately, a new study shows Europe could quickly achieve this, reaping even greater emissions-reduction and air-quality benefits.

Sustainable energy consultancy E4tech looked at scenarios involving countries adopting petrol blends with up to 20 percent renewable ethanol. It found that under two potential 2030 scenarios of increased demand for renewable ethanol—one with a mix of E10 and E20, and another maximum-demand scenario with 100 percent E20—EU supply increases are achievable. In other words, there is no barrier to EU countries increasing their use of renewable ethanol through the introduction today of E10 and tomorrow of a mid-blend such as E20 as a proven climate solution.

“Renewable ethanol is expected to play a key role in the realization of the EU’s energy and climate ambitions,” the report’s authors write. “One of the main factors limiting the potential contribution of renewable ethanol to decarbonization of the road vehicle fleet is the level at which ethanol is blended into gasoline. One option to overcome this is through the standardization and use of mid-level ethanol blends.” The report concludes that such blends are a “valid option” for decarbonization.

Already, EU ethanol delivers more than 71 percent average greenhouse gas emissions savings compared to fossil petrol. Blending more of it into petrol could increase emission savings for the existing petrol fleet and unlock the full potential of future engines.

A conservative, yet optimistic, scenario with 20 percent market share of E20 would require an additional 3.2 billion liters of ethanol, a 58 percent increase compared to 2017 volumes. An extreme high-demand scenario, in which all petrol sold in the EU would be E20, would require tripling the volumes of ethanol (adding 11.1 billion liters) compared with today’s supply volumes.

Europe’s need to reduce auto emissions is more urgent than ever, and renewable ethanol is already an important part of the solution. But EU countries could do a lot more by moving to E10 and higher blends such as E20. This new study shows there’s nothing holding them back.

Author: Emmanuel Desplechin
Secretary General
ePURE, the European Renewable Ethanol Association