Europe Targets Biofuel Sustainability

Legislation could limit industry growth

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

In June, the European Council (EC) reached a political agreement on the indirect land-use change (ILUC) directive. ILUC relates to the unintended consequence of increased greenhouse gas emissions due to expanding and using croplands for feedstocks for producing ethanol or biodiesel production to meet global demand. The directive aims to minimize the impact of indirect changes of land use, while at the same time protecting existing investments in biofuels production.

Group proposes five-point plan to secure industry’s future.


The proposed directive is now approaching its second reading stage in the European Parliament.

The directive has been hailed by the Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels (LSB), Florence, Italy, as a chance to end uncertainty in the industry and create enough room in the market for advanced biofuels to grow up to and beyond 2020.

LSB, composed of CEOs of leading European biofuel producers, including Chemrec, Clariant, Biochemtex, and airlines, including British Airways, is dedicated to ensuring the market uptake of advanced sustainable biofuels by all transport sectors.

In a statement signed by LSB chair Marko Janhunen, who also is a vice president with UPM Biorefining, Helsinki, Finland, the group says that advanced biofuels can play a key role in achieving the climate policy goals of the European Union (EU) — but only if a stable and consistent framework for investments in advanced biofuels beyond 2020 is put into place.  

LSB urges the European Parliament to consider five points that would enable advanced biofuels to be commercialized successfully and in large scale in Europe.

First, and critically important it says, is to create and reserve a certain space for advanced fuels in the fuel mix; in other words, a dedicated and binding target rather than the current non-binding reference target.

Second, LSB warns against adopting the position that member states can deviate from the targets for advanced biofuels under certain conditions. The group claims this would both further dilute the effectiveness of the target to promote advanced biofuels, and prohibit a harmonized approach to advanced biofuels in the EU.

The third point revolves around the EC’s wish to establish the cascading principle as a guideline for feedstock used to produce biofuels. The LSB believes use of biomass for biochemicals/biomaterials manufacture is not superior to biofuel production. Rather, advanced biofuels that use wastes, residues and lignocellulosic raw materials add substantial value to the raw material, provide very high greenhouse-gas savings, and provide further societal benefits in line with sustainable development. Investments into advanced biofuels furthermore are based on technological innovations made in Europe. The LSB points out that cellulosic ethanol, for example, is a green chemical that can be used as transport fuel or as a chemical building block.

Fourth, the LSB wants to ensure that wastes and residues used as raw feedstocks maintain their eligibility to be counted as having twice their energy content. This, it says, is necessary because such eligibility is at the heart of current and planned investments in advanced biofuel production.

Last is a call for the proposed regulatory framework to go beyond 2020. The LSB warns that the positive impact of finalizing ILUC early next year will be lost if the industry can’t see continuity in the regulatory framework. Instead, it urges that the advanced biofuels supporting scheme be conceived in a way to stay in force as part of the European 2030 energy and climate policy.

In summary, the LSB notes that the EC’s common position hinders growth of advanced biofuels and seeks to keep the status quo, while advanced biofuels are the only option to significantly reduce emissions from the transport sector with the existing fleet. If all wastes and residues sustainably available in the EU were converted to biofuels, this could supply 16 % of road transport fuel in 2030, generate an additional €15 billion ($19 billion) in revenue and create about 300,000 jobs, it claims. This great socio-economic opportunity to create added value, green jobs and sustainable growth in Europe should not be missed, says the statement.

“Therefore, we call upon the European Parliament to promote the binding and dedicated target for truly advanced biofuels in Europe for 2020 and beyond to make investments in innovative technologies materialize thus enhancing energy security. The level of the target has to be ambitious but realistic and increasing over the years,” concludes Janhunen.


Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net

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