Biofuels Help Ensure Europe’s Energy Security and Sustainability

As the EU aims to increase its energy independence and steps up its ambitions to fight climate change, it should stay true to its goal of carbon neutrality and not overlook the full potential of domestically produced renewable ethanol.
By Simona Vackeová | April 20, 2022

Russia’s war in Ukraine has led the European Union to reconsider its approach to energy and food independence and highlighted the importance of sticking to its climate ambitions even in an uncertain world.

European renewable ethanol has an important role to play in this new reality: helping to reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels, and imports of animal feed, by ensuring a dependable domestic supply.

The European Commission’s RePowerEU proposal to boost EU energy security is an important step to reducing dependence on imported crude oil and ensuring stable domestic production of fuel and food, while continuing the drive toward carbon-neutrality and a circular economy. The proposal focuses mainly on gas and electricity production—but it should also make a more explicit call for increased production of biofuels such as renewable ethanol. That’s because biofuels—a proven, domestically sourced technology for reducing emissions from road transport, and the leading source of renewable energy in transport—have a valuable strategic role to play in this effort.

Even as Europeans show solidarity with the people of Ukraine, more than ever they see the importance of reducing EU reliance on imported fossil energy. Making full use of domestic biorefineries that produce fuel, food, high-protein feed and other valuable coproducts can help the EU to fully realize its goals of achieving energy and food independence by mobilizing its entire bioenergy sector.

European renewable ethanol is proven to significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from the petrol and hybrid cars that continue to predominate on Europe’s roads. It delivers results now and it’s readily available and affordable without requiring new infrastructure investments. Ethanol production in European biorefineries also contributes to EU food security by creating important high-protein animal feed that offsets the need to import soy meal, as well as other coproducts for food and beverage applications and—as was demonstrated so vividly during the Covid-19 pandemic—for hand sanitizers.

The equation is simple: without biofuels in the transport mix, Europe would be even more reliant on imported fossil fuels, and more exposed to global market fluctuations. As the most recent Eurostat EC SHARES report illustrated, all biofuels together account for over 90% of renewables in transport. Restricting the contribution of such biofuels to climate targets only opens the door for even more reliance on fossil fuel.

The questions about the sustainability of crop-based biofuels and their impact on agriculture and the environment have been answered repeatedly; we know which biofuels are good and which are bad. In fact, in its Renewable Energy Progress reports, the European Commission recently debunked many of the old “food vs. fuel” myths. To be used in transport, EU biofuels must meet stringent sustainability criteria, and there is no justification for restricting them.

Meanwhile, even as the EU considers an end-date for the internal combustion engine, Europeans continue to buy and drive petrol and hybrid cars. Renewable ethanol remains the most immediate, cost-effective, sustainable and socially inclusive solution for reducing emissions from these vehicles—which will be on the roads for a long time to come.

As the EU aims to increase its energy independence and steps up its ambitions to fight climate change, it should not overlook the full potential of domestically produced renewable ethanol. Importantly, the EU should also resist efforts to compromise the existing policy framework and GHG emission reduction targets regulating biofuels at EU level, which could undermine Green Deal ambitions, jeopardize the internal market and hamper efforts to ensure Europe’s energy independence.

Even in an uncertain geopolitical environment, the EU can still stay true to its goal of carbon-neutrality.

Author: Simona Vackeová
Secretary General ad interim,
Director of Government Affairs
ePURE, the European Renewable
Ethanol Association
[email protected]