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European Parliament votes to cap crop-derived biofuels at 7% of transport energy consumption by 2020

The European Parliament approved a draft law to to cap crop-derived biofuel consumption and accelerate the shift to alternative sources. Member states must enact the legislation by 2017.

Current legislation requires EU member states to ensure that renewable energy accounts for at least 10% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The new law says that first-generation biofuels (from crops grown on agricultural land) should account for no more than 7% of energy consumption in transport by 2020. The intent of the new law is to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by the growing use of farm land for biofuel crops.

The new law requires fuel suppliers to report to EU countries and the EU Commission the estimated level of GHG emissions caused by indirect land-use change (ILUC)—i.e. freeing up more to grow food crops, in order to offset that switched to biofuel production. Further, the European Commission must report and publish data on ILUC-related emissions, and the Commission must report back to the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers on the scope for including ILUC emission figures in the existing sustainability criteria.

Rapporteur Nils Torvalds (ALDE, FI) noted the success in moving ahead what he called a “very technical, technological and ideological file” after Parliament endorsed the law (the draft had already been agreed informally by MEPs and ministers). However, Torvalds also wondered whether the law, as amended, was tough enough.

We had much higher goals. Both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and technological progress. If Europe doesn’t move forward, it will be left behind. We also have the systemic problem of the blocking minority in Council, which sometimes develops into a dictatorship of the minority, with member states who are afraid of the future.

—Nils Torvalds

EU member states will have to set a national target, no later than 18 months after the EU directive enters into force, for the share of advanced biofuels, e.g. those sourced from certain types of waste and residues and new sources such as seaweed, in total transport consumption.

Background. In 2003, the European Union established a biofuels support policy, primarily with the aim of lowering carbon emissions in the transport sector. In 2009, as part of the 2020 climate and energy strategy, a double target was set for 2020: 10% share for renewable energy (essentially biofuels) in the transport sector, introduced by the Renewable Energy Directive, and a 6% reduction in the greenhouse gas intensity of fuels used in road transport and non-road mobile machinery, introduced by a revision of the Fuel Quality Directive.

Many actors, including the European Parliament, criticized this policy for not taking into account greenhouse gas emissions associated with indirect land use change (ILUC). Concerns were also raised about the impact of EU biofuels policy on food security in developing countries, on biodiversity and on the environment in general.

In October 2012, the European Commission presented a legislative proposal introducing several changes: limiting to five percentage points the share of crop-derived biofuels that can be included in the 10% renewable energy target for transport, to be reached by 2020; promoting advanced biofuels (produced mainly from waste and residues) by counting their contribution towards the 10% target multiple times; and introducing reporting of estimated emissions caused by indirect land use change. The proposal also sought protection for existing investments until 2020.

The proposal stirred a contentious debate:

  • At what level should a cap on the share of conventional biofuels be set?

  • What are advanced biofuels? How and to what extent should advanced biofuels be promoted?

  • Should the impact of ILUC on greenhouse gas emissions be taken into account, and, if yes, how?

A compromise—the basis for the text approved—was reached on 14 April that limits to 7% the share of biofuels from crops grown on agricultural land that can be counted towards the 10% renewable energy target in transport, while allowing Member States to set lower national limits.

The compromise also sets an indicative 0.5% target for advanced biofuels, the contribution of which would count double towards the 10% renewable energy target for transport (but not towards the 2020 overall 20% renewable energy target). The estimated ILUC emissions would have to be included by fuel suppliers in their reporting on the fuels they place on the EU market.



A cap of 7% from edible food feed stocks is already too high and may not be reached?

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