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Five reasons Europe needs to do better on biofuels

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Crop-based biofuels are capped at a maximum of 7 percent of EU Member States’ transport energy mix.

The EU has taken important steps towards strengthening EU energy independence and food security while sticking to ambitious commitments in the fight against climate change. But it risks failing by overlooking an immediate, cost-effective and socially inclusive solution to all these challenges: sustainable biofuels.

The EU’s biofuels sector — including producers of renewable ethanol and biodiesel from crops, wastes, and residues — is well-placed to play a major role in these efforts. It operates at the crossroads of food and feed production, fossil-fuel substitution and European energy independence, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) savings and the domestic bioeconomy.

Despite this, the EU continues to restrict the use of this proven solution — and some are seeking further restrictions. Crop-based biofuels are capped at a maximum of 7 percent of EU Member States’ transport energy mix. This would have dire consequences for Europe’s goals for energy, food security and emissions-reduction.

As the European Parliament’s plenary prepares to vote on revising the Renewable Energy Directive, the question of whether the EU will make the best use of sustainable biofuels remains a crucial issue. There are many reasons why the EU should do better on biofuels. Here are five of them:

  1. Biofuels are strategically important for the EU energy independence

Sustainable renewable ethanol and biodiesel are proven to significantly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from the petrol, diesel and hybrid cars, vans, trucks, and buses that continue to predominate on Europe’s roads. Sustainable biofuels deliver results now, without requiring new infrastructure investments. They are already making the biggest impact in displacing imported fossil fuel for road transport — and should be included in the EU’s strategy for reducing dependence on Russian oil. According to European Environment Agency’s monitoring of the fuels put on the road in 2019, renewable ethanol consumption helped displace about 3.6 Bl of fossil petrol, while biodiesel and Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) helped displace about 17.3 Bl of fossil diesel.

2. Biofuels contribute to Europe’s food security

EU biofuels production creates food, feed and fuel, significantly strengthening Europe’s strategic autonomy by offsetting the need to import animal feed and displacing the use of crude oil in transport. For every liter of renewable ethanol made from cereals, 1 kilogram of highly Digestible Dried Distiller Grain with Solubles (DDGS) is produced. Similarly, every liter of biodiesel results in 1.5 kilograms of highly digestible rapeseed meal. Our sectors are vital to ensuring that the EU has additional domestic sources of high-protein and cellulosic animal feed as they produce critical renewable liquid fuels for the transport sector. There does not have to be a trade-off between the EU’s food security goals, its climate goals, and its independence objectives.

3. European biofuel production is sustainable

The European Commission regularly confirms that biofuel production in the EU is sustainable. Cultivation of feedstock used in biofuel production compared to total agricultural commodities availability is limited and related environmental impacts are low. As the Commission has stated in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and its effects on global markets, there is no problem of food supply in Europe, but rather of food affordability. With increased production, use of fallow land and continued domestic supply of animal feed, EU agriculture can rise to the challenges of production and global food security.

For every liter of renewable ethanol made from cereals, 1 kilogram of highly Digestible Dried Distiller Grain with Solubles (DDGS) is produced. Similarly, every liter of biodiesel results in 1.5 kilograms of highly digestible rapeseed meal.

4. Biofuels empower everyone to take part in the fight against climate change

Not all Europeans can afford a new electric car, and not every EU country has infrastructure in place yet to support a fully electrified auto fleet. The transition to carbon neutrality must be socially inclusive. Even as the EU debates the specifics of ending sales of cars with internal combustion engines — whether petrol, diesel or hybrid — these vehicles will be everywhere on Europe’s roads for many years to come. Sustainable biofuels are the only way to immediately reduce emissions from vehicles — delivering tangible results in today’s infrastructure. They also bring significant economic benefits, boosting agricultural productivity and rural development.

5. The EU needs to meet its climate targets

The equation is simple: without biofuels in the transport mix, Europe would be even more reliant on imported fossil fuels and more exposed to global market fluctuations. Crop-based biofuels represent today only 4.5 percent of EU’s transport energy mix, yet more than 60 percent of all renewables consumed in transport. With additional (and increasingly significant) biofuels from wastes and residues, biofuels accounted for over 90 percent of renewables in transport. They are by far the main renewable energy source in EU transport. Restricting the contribution of biofuels to achieving climate targets only opens the door for even more reliance on fossil fuel.

The entire EU Biofuels Value Chain — from farmers to processors to refiners — remains committed to delivering sustainable solutions to strengthen EU energy, food and feed independence. Biofuels are vital in decarbonizing the European transport sector and contribute to the EU’s long-term vision of achieving carbon neutrality by mid-century.

The question is whether EU policymakers are willing to make the same commitment.

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