EU approves first set of biofuel sustainability schemes

By Kris Bevill | July 19, 2011

On July 19, the European Union approved the first set of voluntary sustainability schemes for biofuels as required by the Renewable Energy Directive. The purpose of the schemes is to ensure that biofuels used in the 27 EU member states are not derived from lands that were converted from rainforests or natural grasslands and that sustainable biofuels will comprise 10 percent of the EU’s total transportation fuels by 2020. A total of 25 voluntary scheme applications have been received by the European Commission. The seven schemes approved on July 19 were the first applications to be received by the commission. Other applications will continue to be assessed and may be approved at a later time.

EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said the schemes are necessary to guarantee that the entire biofuels production and supply chain is sustainable. “This is why we have set the highest sustainability standards in the world,” he stated. “The schemes recognized on the EU level today are a good example of a transparent and reliable system which ensures that these high standards are met.”

Approved schemes will be required to check a set of sustainability criteria for biofuels produced or imported to the EU. Lands with high carbon stock or high biodiversity value, namely forests of any kind and wetlands, are not allowed to be converted for biofuels production. Biofuels must also prove to emit 35 percent fewer greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than petroleum and the entire production supply chain must prove to be sustainable. These criteria will be evaluated by independent auditors selected by the schemes to conduct spot checks and inspect samples of farmers, mills and traders involved with the biofuels production. Companies importing or producing the biofuel are responsible for paying the scheme for its audit.

The seven approved schemes include:

- International Sustainability and Carbon Certification - a global initiative including a large number of companies from the supply chain and non-governmental organizations including the World Wildlife Fund.
- Bonsucro EU - a roundtable initiative that serves as a standard for sugarcane-based ethanol with a focus on Brazilian sugarcane production.
- Roundtable for Responsible Soy EU RED - a version of the Roundtable for Responsible Soy scheme designed to meet the requirements of the Renewable Energy Directive. It serves as a standard for soy-based biodiesel with a focus on Argentinean and Brazilian soy production.
- Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels EU RED - a roundtable initiative that covers all types of biofuels and has a global scope.
- 2BSvs - otherwise known as the Biomass Biofuels Sustainability voluntary scheme, the scheme is a French initiative that covers all types of biofuels and is global in scope.
- RBSA - developed by industry member Abengoa, the scheme covers ethanol and has a global scope. According to the EU Commission, it is characterized by a mandatory requirement to calculate actual GHG values as opposed to also allowing default values.
- Greenergy Brazilian bioethanol verification program - also an industry initiative, the standard was developed by UK-based fuel distributor and biodiesel producer Greenergy and is applied to Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.

Europe’s ethanol trade association, ePURE, said it approves of the introduction of certification schemes but looks forward to an expansion to include other products besides biofuels. “If wider issues such as global deforestation are to be addressed effectively then the commission must apply binding criteria to crops used for other end uses, such as the food sector and solid biomass said Rob Vierhout, secretary general of ePURE. “A truly level playing field is the best guarantee to avoid potential land use effects.”

The scheme approvals are effectively immediately, meaning that biofuels that have been certified by one of the approved schemes will have open access to EU markets without being subject to further sustainability verification efforts. The Renewable Energy Directive also allows companies to comply with national systems, but those systems can vary by member state and are generally valid only in the country where it was set up.

For more information on the approved schemes, visit the EU Energy Commission website.