What the EU’s New Climate and Energy Revolution Means for Biofuels

EU policymakers must understand that unleashing the true potential of crop-based ethanol and creating a policy environment that can spark investment in advanced ethanol are must-have components of any realistic roadmap to carbon-neutrality.
By Emmanuel Desplechin | August 26, 2021

The EU’s legislative landscape for energy and climate policy is about to undergo another massive change as a result of the European Commission’s new Fit for 55 package, which seeks to accelerate the drive to carbon neutrality.

For the EU biofuels industry, the new proposals—including major changes to policies on renewable energy, the Emissions Trading System and energy taxation, as well as a de facto deadline for the end of the internal combustion engine through new CO2 standards—promise a potentially bumpy road ahead as the implications become clear.

But one thing should be clear to policymakers as they fine-tune these proposals in the coming months: unleashing the true potential of crop-based ethanol and creating a policy environment that can spark investment in advanced ethanol are must-have components of any realistic roadmap to carbon-neutrality.

As usual, the signals from the Commission about whether biofuels can play a major role in transport decarbonization are mixed. On the one hand, the Commission’s new Fit for 55 package sets important new goals for emissions reduction and creates a solid foundation for reaching them by giving a role to renewable liquid fuels in decarbonizing transport.

On the other, the Commission still hesitates to make the best use of emissions-reduction tools it has today, including biofuels—even when targets have been raised to such a degree that their contribution is essential.

Fully enabling biofuels in the drive to carbon-neutrality is just common sense. Even under a scenario in which electric vehicles make rapid gains in market share and the sale of internal combustion engines is phased out, the EU car fleet will consist predominantly of vehicles that run fully or partly on liquid fuel in 2030 and beyond.

For these petrol and hybrid cars, renewable ethanol is the most cost-effective and socially inclusive way to reduce emissions. Europe cannot afford to ignore this important part of the equation.
With the main components of the Fit for 55 package, the Commission should fully maximize the tools it has on hand for decarbonization—especially the Renewable Energy Directive.

This is the third time since 2009 the Commission has tried to get RED right. With Fit for 55, the Commission finally realizes that to succeed it needs to focus on higher GHG intensity reduction targets that drive renewable energy in transport, without multipliers that hide the EU’s continued reliance on fossil fuels. Now that sustainability issues have been settled, the EU should unleash the potential of crop-based biofuels and encourage the wider deployment of advanced biofuels.

The main questions about the sustainability of biofuels were settled after RED II was adopted in 2018 by phasing out high ILUC-risk biofuels. We know that deforestation and outdated “food vs. fuel” arguments do not apply to EU renewable ethanol. So with this revision we should be taking the next logical step and unleashing the potential of good biofuels.

Other Fit for 55 components should work in concert to promote solutions that make a realistic impact on decarbonization.

The CO2 for Cars Standards should include more than just one technology and recognize the benefits of using renewable fuels such as ethanol to reduce the carbon-footprint of cars on the road. The Energy Taxation Directive should incentivize renewable fuels, moving away from volume-based taxation to carbon intensity.

A parallel Emissions Trading System for transport should complement, not replace, binding national targets for emissions reductions in the Effort Sharing Regulation, and avoid increased fuel prices and social discontent. 

As the European Parliament and EU Member States go to work on these proposals from the Commission in the coming months, it will be interesting to see whether Fit for 55 can be made fit for purpose.

Author: Emmanuel Desplechin
Secretary General
ePURE, the European Renewable Ethanol Association
[email protected]