Empowering Ethanol to Make Europe’s Green Deal Real

To unleash the potential of ethanol in Europe, the EU should raise the bar on GHG reduction targets, allow for more flexibility to decarbonize today's fuels, foster innovation, double down on sustainability and deploy E10 use across member states.
By Emmanuel Desplechin | August 27, 2020

The European Union has set ambitious goals for carbon neutrality by 2050 under its Green Deal agenda. To achieve them, it can’t afford to wait for new technologies to develop. Making progress in the race to decarbonize transport means taking advantage of solutions that work in the short-, medium- and long-term.

Renewable EU ethanol has an important role to play in all of those timeframes, including in the remaining months of 2020. With the year more than half over, EU Member States are still struggling to meet their 2020 targets under the Renewable Energy Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive.

Those targets are important because they help set the bar for the next set of goals, in 2030. EU decarbonization ambitions for the next decade have been set in the recast Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). But the potential contribution of ethanol—more than 72 percent average greenhouse gas reduction compared to fossil petrol in the case of ePURE members’ ethanol—is hampered by a cap on crop-based biofuels.

While the law justifiably seeks to avoid promoting biofuels that cause deforestation, it should give countries more freedom to use sustainable solutions such as European ethanol—both first- and second-generation. Tweaking the RED II to raise the cap on crop-based biofuels will speed up the pace of road transport decarbonization.

Ethanol also has a place in the long-term vision for 2050, as meeting global climate change ambitions will require a massive uptake of bioenergy in the coming decades. Even as new technologies develop over the long term, road transport will still require liquid fuels—not just petrol passenger cars and hybrids but heavy-duty trucks and buses will need to be decarbonized. Renewable ethanol is among the best options for reducing their GHG emissions.

To unleash the potential of European renewable ethanol, EU legislation should:
Hit the targets: Ensuring policy continuity in the short and long term is key to the Green Deal. This requires making sure that the agreed minimum 2020 and 2030 targets are met, including the dedicated sub-target for advanced biofuels.

Raise the bar: The EU should raise ambitions for transport fuels GHG savings and renewable energy use. The requirement to decrease carbon intensity set by the FQD should be raised to at least 16 percent by 2030. The RED should do more to empower Member States to increase the uptake of real renewable sources—ideally, by at least 20 percent by 2030.

Empower the RED: The crop cap set by the Indirect Land Use Change Directive, and amended under RED II, should be revised upwards to give Member States more flexibility to use immediate and cost-effective tools to decarbonize today’s fuels.

Foster innovation: The EU should continue the progressive deployment of advanced biofuels by building on existing legislation and industry progress. That would foster the investor confidence needed to fund innovative renewable fuel production.

Strengthen sustainability: All sustainable renewable low-carbon fuels should be able to contribute to EU climate and renewable objectives under stronger sustainability criteria.

Boost better fuels: Deploying higher blends of ethanol will have immediate GHG reduction and air quality benefits. As a first step, E10 should urgently be rolled out across the EU.

Level the playing field: The current carbon dioxide standards for vehicles only consider tailpipe emissions (tank-to-wheel). The EU should consider an approach that accounts for the footprint of the energy powering vehicles (well-to-wheel), distinguishing between fossil and biogenic carbon dioxide, as well as production and end-of-life emissions.

Tax fairly: The current method of taxing energy works against EU environmental goals. The EU needs an Energy Taxation Directive that focuses on carbon intensity instead of volume.

Renewable ethanol is already making a big difference in the climate fight. With the right policies in place, it can do more to help make the Green Deal real.

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