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House of Lords Report Urges Further Actions to Increase Biofuel Use

Graphical overview of EU-25 biofuels use in 2005. Click to enlarge.

A report just published by the European Union Select Committee of the House of Lords (earlier post) assesses the varied progress of EU member states in promoting the use of biofuels and concludes that without the implementation of a range of additional measures, the EU-wide target of 5.75% market share for biofuels by 2010 will not be met.

The EU had set an interim target of 2% market share for biofuels in 2005—a target about half of the member countries did not meet. The UK is a laggard, with 0.3% target in 2005. The average of the EU member states is a 1.4% target.

We believe that the development of biofuels in the European Union can both reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve energy security. While we are aware that there are a number of options for reducing carbon dioxide from power generation, biofuels represent the most significant and currently available fuelling method for reductions in the road transport sector. Also, a high price of oil (resulting from declining proven supplies in relation to demand) increases the strength of the case for biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. On both counts, therefore, it is sensible that there should be a viable biofuels industry in the EU with the capability to meet growing demand.

Though some Member States have gone further and been more successful than others in promoting biofuel use, current EU targets are not being met and greater and more innovative efforts will be required if biofuels are to achieve a serious impact. We welcome the substantial improvements already made and continuing in engine technology, which are complementary to and compatible with biofuels development. We believe there is scope for second-generation biofuels to become increasingly important and to bring greater economic and environmental advantages than currently provided by the present sources of biodiesel and bioethanol.

The EU’s production of biofuels amounted to 2.4 million tonnes in 2004, equivalent to 0.8% of EU gasoline and diesel consumption. This represents an increase of 26.6% cent on the previous year and production capacities are increasing rapidly, according to the report.

Biodiesel accounted for nearly 80% of EU biofuel production in 2004, with production of nearly 2 million tonnes compared with 1.5 million tonnes in 2003—a 29.6% growth in a single year. Germany produced more than half of the EU’s biodiesel, with production above one million tonnes for the first time.

If you look at the targets being set at a national level, a great number of Member States have said they want to achieve the 5.75 per cent by 2010. Of course, there is still a huge gap, but at least there is a clear political understanding that we want to do something.

—Rob Vierhout, Secretary of the European Bioethanol Fuel Association

The report recommends a number of actions—EU-wide as well as specific to the UK—including:

  • Developing further long-term incentives in the UK such as long-term tax concessions and legal guarantees on the duration of duty exemptions to “give certainty and predictability to investors in the energy market.”

  • Encouraging the use of effective partnerships between government, producers and industries such as demonstrated in France, Germany and Sweden.

  • Implementing some form of carbon certification for biofuels, and for the European Commission to establish a European-wide system of certification for both imported and domestically produced biofuels and feedstocks.

    If CO2 saving is the primary goal, it is clearly illogical to use biofuels which have caused the emission of more greenhouse gases by their production than are saved by their consumption.

  • Insuring that the overall environmental benefits of imported alternative fuels are properly realized—i.e., to ensure that the production of the biofuels in the countries of origin does not negate the carbon dioxide benefit of biofuel use.

  • Increasing biofuels production capacity as well as bringing into use EU land, including set-aside, to grow energy crops, while respecting biodiversity policies.

  • Increasing blending limits. The committee called out its special interest in biobutanol, and noted that it hopes “that industry is able to take this technology forward.

  • Amend the EU Biofuels Directive to require Member States to use biofuel obligations as a tool to achieve national targets.

  • Increasing the focus on second-generation biofuels.

    Further advances in engineering, chemical and agricultural crop technologies will sustain the progress of biofuels and it is here that the EU can add real value. By coordinating, financing and organizing European research and development as well as facilitation of good practice, the European Commission should act as the catalyst to encourage the market to find and develop new technologies, including the use of by-products and potential feedstocks now classified as waste. We believe, furthermore, that Commission efforts in this area of research should extend to second generation biofuels for aviation, such as synthetic kerosene.

  • Continuing the present process of setting biofuel market share targets at five year intervals, with new targets being set for 2015 and 2020.


  • The EU Strategy on Biofuels: from field to fuel (Report)

  • The EU Strategy on Biofuels: from field to fuel (Evidence)


Rafael Seidl

One size does not fit all. Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Southern Italy, Southern Spain and Portugal all suffer from relative drought. Biofuel crops grown on land need quite a bit of water. Oil algae species that can be grown in salt water would be a different matter.

Regardless, what ought to be counted is the aggregate net anthropogenic CO2 emissions by each country. If local conditions do not favor biofuel production, a member state could choose to forge ahead with renewable electricity or CO2 mitigation overseas instead. As long as they actually meet their targets without creating some other ghastly form of environmental pollution (e.g. radioactive waste), who cares how they achieve it?


I normally enjoy your posts, but...

Jatropha plants grow very well in semi-arid climates and have higher oil yeilds than conventional crops like rapeseed. It also grows on land unsuitable for other crops and so doesn't have to compete with food crops.

Nobody is asking the dry states to use locally-produced bio-fuels, they can buy such things from wetter states. They're already importing fossil fuels, so it's just a switch.

Have you ever tried to figure out the cost of building a one acre or one hectare algae pond? How about the capital cost to produce 100 million gallons of fuel a year from algae? It's phenomenally large! What happens to the environment when a salt-water pond starts leaking into the fresh-water aquifer? (It's not if, it's when will it leak.)

Let's keep it realistic before we get to ideal.

Rafael Seidl

Floatplane -

you wouldn't build a salt water pond, you'd use a floating skirt to cordon off a section of the ocean and pipe CO2 into it. There are caveats, including storms, predation by fish etc. that would have to be addressed but you could make do without any concrete.

Btw, the EU is spending EUR 400 billion on farm subsidies between 2007 and 2013. If we diverted even just half of that to building up a renewable energy/biofuel infrastructure for the continent, we'd be in much, much better shape a few years from now. I guess we'll have to wait for Frere Jacques to finally leave the Elysee before there's any chance of that happening, though.


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