First-generation biofuels on radar screen
By Marie-Martine Buckens | Wednesday 06 February 2013
To put an end to the controversy over competition between biofuels and food products, the European Commission has proposed to cap the use of first-generation biofuels in transport. Its text of 17 October 2012 is a compromise between the demands of environmental and development NGOs and food multinationals, on the one hand, and the biofuels industry and the European farm lobby, on the other. In its current form, the proposal satisfies neither side. The ball is now in the court of the two EU institutions. In Parliament, French MEP Corinne Lepage (ALDE) has been named rapporteur on this issue. If all goes well, the report will be presented in plenary early this summer. The EU ministers will hold an initial exchange of views at the Energy Council, on 22 February.
TIGHTENING UP SUSTAINABILITY CRITERIA
In its draft directive adopted last October, the Commission presents amendments to Directives 2009/28/EC on renewable energy and 98/70/EC on fuel quality. The first sets a target of 10% energy from renewable sources in transport by 2020 and the second imposes a 6% reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from fuels used in transport by 2020.
For biofuels in use now (biodiesel and bioethanol), those incriminated by NGOs, the text proposes to cap their use at their current rate of 5%. To meet the other half of the 10% target for renewable energy in transport, the proposal aims to stimulate the production and use of second and third-generation biofuels in transport. The current directives already award them a ‘climate bonus’ by doubling the emissions reductions they allow. The proposal before the Council and Parliament will double this ‘climate bonus’ a second time. The EU executive thus proposes to count fourfold biofuels produced from municipal sludge, the biodegradable portion of industrial and municipal waste, straw and algae. A real market share of 1.25%, for example, would be counted as 5%.
One of the key demands of NGOs was that the directives encouraging the use of biofuels should take account of factors related to indirect land use change (ILUC). The only account given to these factors is the imposition of a 5% threshold for agricultural biofuels and the tightening up of sustainability criteria. Indeed, the addition of an ILUC factor is proposed only for information purposes. The text simply calls for their inclusion in reports submitted by fuel suppliers and member states on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions associated with biofuels. Certain observers note that biodiesel would have been condemned otherwise. In any event, the Commission agrees that, for these biofuels, there should be an “enhanced incentive scheme to further promote sustainable and advanced biofuels from feedstocks that do not create an additional demand for land”. The Commission agrees to report to Parliament and the Council by 31 December 2017, on the basis of scientific evidence, on the effectiveness of the measures.
Lastly, the Commission proposes to increase to 60% the minimum greenhouse gas saving threshold for new installations – placed in service after 1 July 2014 – in order to improve the efficiency of biofuel production and to deter investments in installations with low greenhouse gas performance. Under existin rules, biofuel production installations in operation prior to 1 July 2014 must reach a 35% greenhouse gas saving threshold by 1 January 2018.
The deadline for reaching the 10% threshold for renewable energy for fuel used in transport is 1 January 2020. After that date, warns the Commission, no subsidies will be allowed except for biofuels that deliver “substantial greenhouse gas savings”.
The ball is now in the court of the two EU institutions. The deadline for reaching the 10% threshold for renewable energy for fuel used in transport is 1 January 2020