European Parliament committee votes to approve biofuel agreement

By Erin Voegele | April 14, 2015

On April 14, the environment committee (ENVI) of the European Parliament voted 51-12, with one voter abstaining, to endorse a deal struck by legislators earlier this year that aims to cap the use of first-generation biofuels and accelerate the shift to alternative sources. The text of the agreement is expected to be put to a vote by the full House in late April, and member states will have to enact the legislation by 2017.

Information released by the committee indicates current legislation requires European Union member states to ensure renewable energy accounts for at least 10 percent of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The compromise approved April 14 stats that first-generation biofuels should be capped at 7 percent of final energy consumption in transport by 2020. The committee also noted that fuel suppliers will report the estimated level of emissions caused by freeing up more land to grow food crops needed when land has been switched to biofuel crop production, known as indirect land use change (ILUC) to EU countries and the European Commission. The commission will then report and publish data on ILUC-related emissions. In addition, the commission is expected to report back to the European Parliament and the council, based on best available science, on the scope for including ILUC emission factors in the existing sustainability criteria.

Within 18 months of the directive entering into force, EU member states will also have to set a national target for advanced biofuels. The draft legislation sets an indicative target of 0.5 percent for advanced biofuels. Member states would be allowed to set a lower target on certain grounds, such as limited potential for production, technical or climatic constraints, or the existence of national policies that already allocate commensurate funding to incentives for energy efficiency and electric transport.

ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association, called the compromise disappointing, but said it may help restore some much-needed policy certainty for the biofuels industry. While the proposed compromise contains some positive aspects, ePURE noted the process to reach the compromise lost sight of the overall objective—to promote the best-performing biofuels. ePURE also noted that several issues have been left to member state discretion, which means there is a risk of uneven implementation of the amended legislation at the national level.

“The absence of binding targets for advanced biofuels and renewable energy (ethanol) use in petrol, both key measures to differentiate better biofuels, and both supported previously by the European Parliament on several occasions, undermines the core objectives of this reform,” said Robert Wright, secretary general of ePURE. As a result, ePURE is calling on policy makers to address those gaps as part of the expected review of the Renewable Energy Directive by the end of 2017, as well as during the definition of the post-2020 energy and climate framework.

“While today’s vote is a first step to providing some policy certainty to the industry, the result does not sufficiently incentivize the use of biofuels with better GHG performance. The draft legislation is also inconsistent with the EU’s commitment to promote innovation and investment and protect sustainable jobs and economic growth,” Wright continued.

The German Bioethanol Industry Association (BDBe) said the proposed compromise was a first, but inadequate step, towards clarifying the future legal framework for biofuel producers. "This reform to EU biofuel policy is the result of a somewhat irrational debate on biofuels,” said Norbert Schindler, member of the Bundestag and chairman of the BDBe. “On a positive note, the EU did not bend to unjustified criticism about biofuels from some non-governmental organizations. They oppose biofuels for ideological reasons and call for the mixture of biofuels with fossil petrol and diesel as an integral part of the energy reform to be rescinded. A subsequent increase in petroleum consumption again can then be used as an argument to ban driving to the extent possible. For example, the goal is to reduce car traffic by 50 percent. This will mean nothing other than cars only for the wealthy and bicycles for the common man.”

"The CO2 emissions of cars must be lowered,” Schindler continued. “But the answer is not to ban driving cars. All available means including biofuels, electric vehicles and efficiency improvements must be used. Germany, with its ongoing obligation to lower CO2 emissions of fuels, is on the right path. This path also has to be enforced in the other EU member states."

The Renewable Energy Association stressed the importance of finalizing and implementing the compromise quickly. “If we are, indeed, at the end of this very long road, it is crucial that the next government implement the final agreement as speedily as possible,” said Nina Skorupska, CEO of the REA. “Many biofuels companies in the U.K. have simply given up and those brave investors left have been suffering badly. Advanced fuels can play a key role in meeting the EU’s carbon reduction targets through reducing ever rising carbon emissions in the transport sector. But if it is to make an impact, it is now time to give biofuels businesses the support they need and ensure that the next generation of investors have the confidence that the policy will not be overturned once again.”