Euro producers rocked by leaked plan to limit crop-based biofuels

European biofuel producers have been stunned by a leaked EU draft proposal to impose a limit on the use of crop-based biofuels.

If approved, the EU’s policy shift will effectively endorse some environmental analysts’ views that crop-based biofuels compete with biofuels and are, as a result, less climate-friendly than initially believed. The move will also see an end to EU supports for an industry which has grown to be worth €17bn annually.

Under the proposals, biofuels made from crops would be limited to 5% of total energy consumption in EU transport in 2020. Crop-based fuel consumption currently accounts for about 4.5% of total EU transport fuel demand.

The new limit would cast doubt over the EU’s binding target to source 10% of road transport fuels from renewable sources by the end of the decade. The EU draft proposes increased usage of non-land-using biofuels, such as those from domestic waste and algae.

The draft states: "It is appropriate to encourage greater production of such advanced biofuels as these are currently not commercially available in large quantities, in part due to competition for public subsidies with now established food crop based biofuels."

Jean-Philippe Puig, chief executive of Sofiproteol, owner of the EU’s largest biodiesel producer, is one of a number of industry leaders stunned by the policy shift.

Speaking to the Reuters news agency, Mr Puig said: "Three years after the EU made biofuels a central plank of its policy to promote renewable energies in transport, the Commission’s current proposal threatens an industry that arose as a response to its policies, supports 50,000 jobs and would have provided the next generation of biofuel technologies."

If this proposed shift goes ahead, the rules would most likely lead to a boost in European consumption of ethanol, which currently accounts for just over 20% of the EU biofuel market, compared with biodiesel’s 78% share.

Nusa Urbancic, clean fuels campaigner for Transport and Environment, said: "The good news is that this proposal, if adopted, would stop further expansion of current types of unsustainable biofuels, which is an important step. The bad news is it fails to do anything about the current volumes of these fuels."

Meanwhile, Teagasc bioenergy specialist Barry Caslin said that policy makers need to be careful how they interpret the complex Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) which is the basis of greenhouse gas assessments and carbon footprinting.

Mr Caslin said: "Policy makers need to be aware of how the use of different LCA methodologies within regulatory frameworks can impact on market development, and businesses need to understand how the numbers they get from LCAs will impact on their procurement practices and product development.

"Under the EU bioenergy directive, all biofuels produced today must achieve greenhouse gas emissions savings of 35% over their fossil fuel equivalent this figure increases to 60% by 2018. While most biofuels produced in Ireland will achieve the 35% reduction, the 2018 target of 60% will only be achieved by using waste materials such as tallow, or recovered vegetable oil. It therefore depends on the feedstock and the production process to determine if the biofuels will count to meeting our RES-T 2020 targets.

"Environmental performance of biorenewables should be assessed on a case by case basis. Energy and Greenhouse gas calculations must be based on consistent logic but tailored to their intended purpose and this must be communicated to the broader audience so that the reasons for any difference in results can be communicated."