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European Environment Agency Scientific Committee Calls for Suspension of Europe’s 10% Biofuels Target

The European Environment Agency (EEA) Scientific Committee has called for the suspension of the EU target of 10% biofuels use in transportation by 2020, and is recommending a new, comprehensive scientific study on the environmental risks and benefits of biofuels.

The Scientific Committee assists the management board and executive director of the EEA by providing scientific advice and delivering professional opinions on any scientific matter in the areas of work undertaken by the Agency. The committee comprises 20 independent scientists from 15 EEA member countries, covering a variety of environmental fields.

Faced with ongoing growth in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, the EU introduced mandatory biofuel quotas in the expectation that in the medium-term the growth in transport emissions can be reduced and that the emissions can be subsequently stabilized.

In 2003, the Biofuels Directive set the objective of replacing 2% of vehicle fuel supply by 2005 and 5.75% by 2010. The 2005 target was not met and it seems unlikely that the 2010 target can be reached, according to the EEA. Nevertheless in 2007 the EU target for biofuels was increased to 10% by 2020, under the conditions of production being sustainable and second generation technologies being commercially available.

The EEA Scientific Committee summarized its concerns as follows:

  • Biofuel production based on first generation technologies does not optimally use biomass resources with regard to fossil energy saving and to greenhouse gas reduction. Technologies for direct heat and electricity generation should be preferred because they are more economically competitive and more environmentally effective than biofuel production for vehicles.

  • Biomass utilization implies combustion of very valuable and finite resources. Biomass utilization must necessarily go hand in hand with energy efficiency improvements. This is not yet the case for the majority of applications in the automotive and residential sectors.

  • The EEA has estimated the amount of available arable land for bioenergy production without harming the environment in the EU (EEA Report No 7/2006). In the view of the EEA Scientific Committee the land required to meet the 10 % target exceeds this available land area even if a considerable contribution of second generation fuels is assumed. The consequences of the intensification of biofuel production are thus increasing pressures on soil, water and biodiversity.

  • The 10 % target will require large amounts of additional imports of biofuels. The accelerated destruction of rain forests due to increasing biofuel production can already be witnessed in some developing countries. Sustainable production outside Europe is difficult to achieve and to monitor.

The overambitious 10% biofuel target is an experiment, whose unintended effects are difficult to predict and difficult to control. Therefore the Scientific Committee recommends suspending the 10% goal; carrying out a new, comprehensive scientific study on the environmental risks and benefits of biofuels; and setting a new and more moderate long-term target, if sustainability cannot be guaranteed.

—EEA Scientific Committee

The EEA was established by a 1990 EC regulation which came into effect in 1993. The mission of the agency is to provide sound, independent information on the environment to those involved in developing, adopting, implementing and evaluating environmental policy, and also the general public.

Comments

Mark A

Its good to see common sense making a return in regards to biofuels. Now if we can only get our leaders here in the US to use common sense and not listen to the corn lobbyists we may be ok. These corn interests are about as silly as the guys on revgeek.com or some skits on saturday night live.

Rafael Seidl

In principle, suspending the 10% target at this time is sensible because the technologies for producing that much fuel sustainably and without any impact on food prices are not yet available. In its present state, the directive is very much in the interest of the EU farm lobby that is trying to switch subsidies from food to non-food agriculturals in response to pressure from the WTO.

Some have argued that biomass is best used for space heating (dry wood pellets) and for small-scale electricity generation (stalks, straw, slurries) on farm properties. This would leave more fossil natural gas for transportation (via CNG/ANG fuel systems or chemical liquefaction) and/or reduce the need for coal-fired power stations. It would also reduce the need for transporting solid biomass. In some countries - Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Finland(?) - biomass is already being used in this way on a significant scale.

However, transportation fuels carry higher margins and the sector is highly dependent on a small number of supplier nations. Italy has the largest CNG fleet in Europe, because it had some domestic natural gas. Those fields are in decline and there are plans for a new South Stream pipeline from Russia. Afaik, there are none for switching to biomethane instead, even though the EU has decided to let anyone feed pipeline-grade gas into the grid.

Therefore, a straight suspension the biofuels directive would only serve the interests of the European oil & gas industry. Instead, the EU should aggressively pursue R&D into dedicated energy crops that deliver very high yields per acre, especially if they can recycle CO2 emitted by gas- and coal-fired power plants. Algae grown in vertical bioreactors are an obvious starting point, especially in Europe's sun belt, because they use little water and do not depend on soil quality.

Nevertheless, further improvements in fuel economy will be essential if biofuels are ever to meet a substantial fraction of total demand. Over-and-above engine enhancements, avenues of improvement already include non-transport (telecommuting, videoconferencing), bicycle fleets, fully electric vehicles (trains, trams, trolleybuses) and electric hybrid cars & trucks (start-stop systems). Until battery prices come down, PHEVs, E-REVs and BEVs will not reach high enough unit volume to make a significant difference.

a.b

Scientists are lacking practicallity. They must think that everything is complicated and just them can understand.. First of all all foods for humans and animals can serve as fuel but have to be eaten before then after the first transformation it became sh*t then it can be transform in fuel especially methane gas. So the biofuel is methane gas coming from sewage cleaning. Cars have to have compressed natural gas tank. So it can be done on a municipality basis where sewage water from the town are converted to methane fuel for cars and trucks. In the u.s.a they are burning the food crop directly from crop to the gas tank( ethanol ) and the same amount of crop can have produced the same amount of energy by been converted to methane gas after been eated by cows, pigs, chicken, etc.

Harvey D

Somebody is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The long term choice between our ICE vehicle and our stomach will have to be addressed.

Biofuel is not the best sustainable way (in most countries) to feed the gas guzzler monsters that too many are using. As the number of ICE vehicle increase the problem will be amplified and become unmanageable.

Much more could be achieved with 100+ mpg PHEVs and BEVs than 10% or 20% or even 80% biofuel.

Once we have reduced vehicle fuel consumption to less than 1/5 of current level (100+ mpg instead of 20 mpg), it may be possible to use second or third generation biofuel to satisfy part of the fuel required without major impact on world food production.

Higher priority must be given to fuel consumption reduction, not biofuel production.

marc

to harvey:
you make an interesting point about consumption. when honda can produce a 200hp+ engine that displaces only 2l, why do auto makers still feel the need to use big v6's to get the same amount of power? (honda itself is included there).
all too often (esp here in america) it's the "bigger is better" mentality. most people here don't care that you can get the same amount of power in half the space, they want more so they can say they have more! (kind of perverse, but sadly true).
cars should be rated WRT mpg, g/co2 per mile, and hp/pound. this way instead of the misleading "300 hp!" ads, we could standardize the power WRT weight. i think this would encourage downsizing since people would start to look at relative power and not absolute values.
just my .02

sjc

In the U.S. we have made some improvement with a few percent biofuels a few percent telecommuting and a few percent on fuel economy standards, while we import 70% of our oil every day.

We are going to need much more than trimming around the edges to address the problem. I think the people all know this and are looking to their leaders and decision makers to get us on a good sustainable track.

One of the core values in America is self reliance. Conservatives will tell you not to expect anything from government, do it yourselves. Then they call conservation nothing more than a personal virtue and try to drill more wells off the coast lines.

Biofuels can be a big part of our future in America. We have a strong agricultural base and lots of land. Some might say that we should not do this, it will only encourage gas guzzlers. That misses the point. People can be wasteful when there is cheap abundance. It is not a good thing, but fairly predictable. I do not think that biofuels will bring us cheap abundance, so worrying about waste may not be our problem.

allen_xl_z

Rafael,
Waste to energy (in various forms)may be a critical part to solving Italy's current waste disposal problems. The Italian govt and citizens must confront the Mafia and neutralize them along the way. Otherwise, they will control of energy like they currently control waste disposal.

I think Sweden has an ambitious ongoing biomethane program.

Rafael Seidl

@ allen_xl_z -

Naples actually sends two full freight trains of trash up to Germany (!) for incineration every day there because its citizenry refuses to accept another landfill near their city. The full ones are run by companies with ties to the Camorra - the local mafia - and emitting all kinds of pollution. Of course, it doesn't help that Neapolitans can't be bothered to separate their trash.

The idea of neutralizing organized crime syndicates isn't new but it's a lot harder to do than you seem to think. Italy has some of the most courageous crime fighters (prosecuting magistrates) in the world, they regularly get assassinated. It doesn't help that most Italian governments are so short-lived.

Harvey D

marc:

Not every country has the land area per capita as USA, Canada, + (Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Australia and a few other countries).

Second generation biofuel may make sense for us but not as much for Europe, Japan, China, India and many other Asian, South America, Middle East and African countries.

First generation USA corn ethanol production is already having a major impact on world food price. It may be much worse in 2 or 3 years when production is trippled.

Will all those exisitng and future plants be converted to cellulosic non-food feed stocks? If not, many people may have to lose weight. Here again, that may be OK for us, over weight over fed people, but.... many others are not that fat.

Larry

Hmmm... I think the EEA is probably right that the goals should be suspended based on current technology, but I suggest that suspension is the proper word. Europe doesn't, so far as I am aware, have the excess land to divert to bio-fuel production based on crops used only for that purpose and I'm not even sure that it could divert sufficient crop production acreage even to relatively higher yield algae based methods, assuming such methods were available right now to implement. The US has large areas of non-arable land that could be used for algae based schemes and might even have the excess production of crop remnants (stalks and such) that second generation bio-fuels make sense for us. Indeed given sufficient gene engineering it might be possible to use older southern crop lands of marginal soil nutrition value to grow large quantities of bio-fuel plants on (rapeseed or saw grass). Europe simply doesn't have the luxury of that much free land area.
I do like the idea of sewage conversion to methane/fuel gas and I have to wonder if plasma conversion of regular trash shouldn't be pursued as well. I would, however, argue against throwing the baby out with the bath water. Electric vehicles are wonderful in the long term, but people can only afford to replace automobiles every so often. Even if electric vehicles were offered for mass sale today, it would be decades before they could replace significant numbers of ICE based vehicles currently on the road. Fuel additives and blends that offer increasingly better carbon balances can be phased in over time. And offering fuels that are greener (not perfect perhaps but better then what you have), provide more self sufficiency (Doesn't Europe import even higher percentages of it's transport fuel then the US does? I don't know, but it's what I've always understood), and don't require major infrastructure change (always expensive)(Would a massive switch to electric cars require major increases in European base line power production?) seems like a good mid term solution. It's simply clear that the first generation solutions (based on food plant ethanol)weren't the right answer, but second generation approches based on better science and non food sources probably make up a healthy portion of the correct answer. Even if the current approches turned out to be nothing but thinly disguised farm subsidies (in both the US and Europe) at least they were something, and now having the results of that trial we can urge our politicians to better solutions in the next round.

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