German researches conclude EU rapeseed biodiesel extremely unlikely to meet current definition of sustainability
|GHG emissions savings of rapeseed FAME compared to RED “typical” and “default” levels. Dashed line indicates RED threshold of 35%. Pehnelt and Vietze. Click to enlarge.|
In a new analysis of GHG emissions savings potential of rapeseed biodiesel produced in the EU, a pair of researchers from GlobEcon, an independent economics and politics research and consulting institute based in Jena, Germany, conclude that the GHG emissions saving values of rapeseed biodiesel stated by the EU “are more than questionable.”
“Given these striking differences as well as the lack of transparency in the EU’s calculations,” they write, “we assume that the EU seems to prefer ‘politically’ achieved typical and default values regarding rapeseed biodiesel over scientifically proven ones.” The findings are published as a Jena Economic Research Paper, a joint publication of the Friedrich Schiller University and the Max Planck Institute of Economics, Jena, Germany.
Authors Gernot Pehnelt, director at GlobEcon, and Christoph Vietze, a research fellow at GlobEcon and research partner at the Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, analyzed the lifecycle GHG emissions savings potential of rapeseed biodiesel using the same basic methodology and background data contained in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) by considering the whole production chain from cultivation of the feedstock up to use of the biofuels.
They used only publicly available and published data in their calculations, and provided detailed documentation of all data. They also used average values and assuming common conditions along the supply chain in their scenarios.
The RED, adopted in 2009, includes a 10% target for the use of renewable energy in road transport fuels by 2020. Renewable energy options for road transport included first- and second-generation biofuels and electricity. The RED also established environmental sustainability criteria for biofuels consumed in the EU: a minimum rate of direct GHG emission savings (35% in 2009 and rising over time to 50% in 2017) and restrictions on the types of land that may be converted to production of biofuels feedstock crops (direct land use changes only). (Earlier post.)
Rapeseed is by far the most important source of biodiesel produced in the European Union and has experienced dramatic growth rates since the introduction of various national support schemes, not least prompted by the RED. In this paper, we recalculate the GHG emissions saving potential of rapeseed biodiesel based on the background data provided by the EU and realistic assumptions and data from the rapeseed biodiesel production. We are using the same methodology used in a previous paper on palm oil biodiesel (Pehnelt and Vietze 2011) and adjust the background data and scenarios to the common conditions and supply chains of rapeseed biodiesel production in Europe.
Our results indicate that the ‘sustainability’ of rapeseed biodiesel in the interpretation of RED is at best very questionable, and in most scenarios simply unjustifiable. We are not able to reproduce the GHG emissions saving values published in RED for rapeseed biodiesel. In most of our scenarios, rapeseed biodiesel not only shows a considerably inferior GHG emissions saving performance than proposed by RED but also fails outright to reach the 35% threshold in 8 out of 12 scenarios considered. Thus, the question of whether rapeseed is a sustainable source of biodiesel can be answered as follows: as with all scientific assessment, it depends on the specific conditions and production technologies, but the overall evidence points towards answering the question in the negative. It is extremely likely that European rapeseed biodiesel does not, in fact, meet the current EU definition of sustainability.—Pehnelt and Vietze (2012)
For all of their scenarios, they calculated the GHG emission saving potentials of refined rapeseed oil as an input in power plants (electricity production) as well as the GHG emissions saving potentials of rapeseed oil based biodiesel (FAME) according to RED and by using common esterification technologies. They thus presented three GHG emission saving values regarding the respective fossil fuel comparator:
- Values for the GHG emission savings of rape oil used for electricity production;
- values for the GHG emissions saving potential compared to the value of fossil diesel as stated by the EU-Directive (EU 2009); and
- values for the GHG saving potential of rape biodiesel to current LCA of fossil fuel emissions.
In most of the scenarios, rapeseed biodiesel does not reach the GHG emissions saving values using the formula contained in RED. Neither the RED typical value for rapeseed oil (45%) nor even the lower default value (38%) can be supported by the analysis, they said. Furthermore, most of the scenarios indicate that rapeseed biodiesel does not reach the 35% threshold required by the EU Directive for being considered as sustainable biofuel.
In the standard scenario, they calculated a GHG emissions saving value of not even 30%—not only below the GHG emissions saving values (default and typical) that can be found in RED but also far below the 35% threshold.
The aim of our paper was to analyze the GHG emission saving values of rapeseed biodiesel (FAME) as stated by RED (EU 2009). For this purpose, we run a life cycle assessment (LCA) of rapeseed biodiesel using the same basic methodology and background data as RED. Unlike other studies, we utilize only publicly available and published data in our calculations. We follow the same rather conservative approach as in a previous study on palm oil (Pehnelt and Vietze 2011) in using average values and assuming common conditions along the production chain in most of our scenarios. However, in order to enable a broad comparison, we run also calculations with more superior assumptions regarding rapeseed diesel production (e.g. esterification) compared to the average values and pathways. Moreover, in all scenarios we compare the very GHG emissions with fossil fuel emissions according RED (EU 2009) as well as with higher fossil fuel emissions according Silva et al. (2006) and CONCAWE et al. (2006). The latter is more favorable regarding GHG emission savings of rapeseed diesel.
Nevertheless, in most cases we are unable to reach the GHG emissions saving values that can be found in the annex of RED. Neither the RED typical value for rapeseed oil (45%) nor even the less stringent default value (38%) can be approved by our analysis. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of calculations indicate that rapeseed biodiesel does not reach the 35% threshold required by the EU Directive.—Pehnelt and Vietze
Gernot Pehnelt and Christoph Vietze (2012) Uncertainties about the GHG Emissions Saving of Rapeseed Biodiesel (Jena Economic Research Papers Nº 2012 – 039)