How to Make Sure the EU Doesn’t Backtrack on Biofuels

In Europe, biofuels continue to be the predominant source of clean transportation fuels, and we will still need low-carbon fuels like ethanol beyond 2030. Policymakers need to make sure the Green Deal does not backtrack on this vision and progress.
By Emmanuel Desplechin | May 05, 2020

The European Union’s Green Deal, an ambitious plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, has put emissions reduction at the forefront of Brussels policymaking. The coming months will see a significant rethinking of EU energy and environment legislation—and offer opportunities to right some wrongs when it comes to biofuels.

But by reopening debate on issues like the sustainability of certain biofuels and on which low- and zero-carbon technologies should be favored in transport, the Green Deal could risk slowing down progress.

It’s important for policymakers to consider what has been successful at reducing dependence on fossil fuel—such as renewable ethanol—and find ways to build on that progress in the coming months and years.

Through the Green Deal, over the next couple years, several major pieces of EU legislation will be revisited—and, presumably, heavily tweaked. The measures most directly related to biofuels policy include a revision of the recently adopted (and still being implemented) Renewable Energy Directive II, Energy Union Governance, the carbon dioxide (CO2) for cars and vans regulation, the CO2 for trucks regulation, the Clean Vehicles Directive and the Alternative Fuels Directive.

Throughout this process, the urgency of the climate crisis and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus pandemic will make it challenging for EU policymakers to chart a course and stick to it.

Here are some guiding principles the EU should follow as it drives the Green Deal forward:

• Increase ambitions for greenhouse gas (GHG) savings from transport fuels and renewable energy use in transport. Crop-based biofuels have been the main source of renewable energy in transport. The current RED artificially inflates the contribution of other renewable energy sources through the use of multipliers—“virtual” renewables. Such multiple counting should be eliminated.

• Ensure policy continuity. After several years of debate over the sustainability of various feedstocks, RED II has given biofuels producers in the EU a moderate level of certainty. But the sustainability question keeps getting raised again. As the Green Deal moves forward, it should commit to meeting the 2020 and recently agreed upon 2030 renewable energy targets, including the dedicated subtarget for advanced biofuels.

• Unleash the potential of sustainable crop-based biofuels by promoting their use beyond the current caps. Crop-based biofuels are an immediate and cost-effective tool to decarbonize the existing and future light- and heavy-duty vehicles. Their use should not be limited to transport modes that cannot be electrified.

• Continue the progressive deployment of advanced biofuels. Policies to promote advanced biofuels should build on existing legislation and industry, to secure the investor confidence required for any new investment into renewable fuels. Advanced biofuels should be seen as a complement and not simply a replacement for crop-based biofuels.

• Make it easier to deploy biofuels blends. In recent months, several member states have adopted E10 to reduce emissions, bringing the total number of EU countries using the petrol standard to 13. Rolling out E10 across the EU would bring instant results and incentivize higher blends.

• Incentivize better fuels by correcting the restrictive tailpipe emissions approach. The current CO2 standards for vehicles only account for tailpipe emissions (tank to wheel). The EU should progressively consider an approach that accounts for the nature of the energy powering vehicles (well to wheel), as well as the production and end-of-life emissions.

Biofuels continue to be the predominant renewable energy source in transport in Europe. We still need low-carbon liquid fuels such as ethanol as a main part of the energy mix, even beyond 2030.

Policymakers need to keep that in perspective to make sure the Green Deal does not backtrack on biofuels.

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