Commission consults on biofuel standards

The European Commission has issued a preliminary consultation on sustainability standards for biofuels.1 The consultation admits that meeting a target for biofuels to make up 10% of fuel supplies by 2020 will be difficult without a significant increase in blending limits.

In March, EU heads of state accepted the Commission’s proposals for a binding target for biofuels to make up 10% of road fuels by energy content in each member state by 2020 (ENDS Report 386, pp 52-53 ). This target is to be accompanied by introducing a sustainability scheme for biofuels.

The Commission is drafting proposals to incorporate the target into legislation and for a "simple incentive/support system for biofuels".

The consultation feeds into that work, and considers how a sustainability system should be designed, how the effects of biofuel production on land use can be monitored and what action is needed to meet the 10% target.

Under the proposal, biofuel producers would have to demonstrate their products emit no more greenhouse gases in production than they save by replacing petrol or diesel. If they fail to do so, their products will not count towards the target or receive financial support.

To give a ‘safety margin’, producers may have to show that their products produce greenhouse gas savings. However, these could be just 10%, which is far below the level called for by environmental groups (ENDS Reports 386, p 15  and 383, p 15 ).

The UK and Dutch governments, amongst others, are developing methods for measuring biofuels’ greenhouse gas emissions. These could be adopted across the EU to demonstrate compliance with the Commission’s sustainability criteria.

Biofuels should not be grown on land if it would lead to the loss of "high-carbon stocks" or "exceptional biodiversity", the consultation adds. It includes criteria for ensuring this has not occurred.

Turning land over to biofuels could also have an indirect effect on the amount of land used for forestry and agriculture, it says. Legislation should require the Commission to regularly report on such effects.

The Commission intends to use the legislation to encourage the development of second-generation biofuels - such as cellulosic ethanol - for example by giving greater credit to them under any biofuel obligation or by offering higher subsidies. The consultation asks whether such additional support should be linked to greenhouse gas savings.

The Commission is already taking action to meet the biofuel target. It has proposed amending fuel quality standards to allow ethanol and biodiesel to make up 10% of fuel supplies by volume. But this only equates to 6.8% and 8.8% of fuel supplies by energy content respectively so "will not be enough" to meet the target.

The consultation asks for views on whether high-blend ethanol and biodiesel products could help meet the target, or whether the Commission should promote other types of biofuels like biomethane. However, it admits that all these options require the development of specialised vehicles and distribution systems.

If none of these methods "can be relied on", the share of ethanol that can be blended into ordinary petrol would have to be raised to 20%. A similar increase might be required for biodiesel as well. This decision will have to be taken soon, says the Commission, so that car manufacturers can redesign engines in time.

The consultation runs until 4 June.

  • A Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels has been created to develop global standards for biofuel production and processing.

    Based at the Energy Centre of EPFL, a federal technology institute in Switzerland, its steering board includes NGOs, the Dutch and Swiss governments and businesses such as BP and Shell. It hopes to publish draft standards in early 2008.

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