Parliament votes to approve EU biofuels cap, provides closure

Source: By Ron Kotrba, Biomass Magazine • Posted: Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The European Parliament voted April 28 to approve the cap on first-generation biofuels and provide a degree of closure to the long-debated measure.

The new law caps first-generation biofuels from crops grown on agricultural land at 7 percent of energy consumption in transportation by 2020, requires fuel suppliers to report to EU countries and the EU Commission the estimated level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions caused by indirect land use change (ILUC), requires the commission to report and publish data on ILUC-related emissions, and obligates the commission to report back to the parliament and ministerial council on the scope for including ILUC emission figures in the existing sustainability criteria.

“We succeeded in getting a very technical, technological and ideological file to go ahead,” said Nils Torvalds, the lead Member of the European Parliament, after the law was approved.

ePURE, the European ethanol industry association, welcomed closure of the ILUC file in order to restore regulatory and market certainty, but called the absence of binding targets for advanced biofuels and ethanol a missed opportunity to amend the biofuels legislation in an ambitious and meaningful manner.

“Today’s vote is an important staging point in the process to develop a stable, consistent and forward looking policy that promotes the best performing biofuels, such as conventional and advanced European ethanol, as part of the EU’s 2030 climate and energy policy, “ said Robert Wright, secretary general of ePURE. “With its low ILUC and high GHG savings, European ethanol will be an essential part of the future transport fuel mix.”

The vote “puts an end to long and protracted negotiations,” stated the European Biodiesel Board. “The European associations representing the biodiesel chain are relieved that a compromise could be found, which recognizes the importance of the EU biofuels sector and the investments made, while acknowledging the existing doubts around the concept and measurement of the so-called ILUC factors.”

“The biodiesel industry needs long-term legislative stability and visibility to properly assess and then sustain its massive investments in Europe,” the EBB continued. “Revisiting the directive so soon after its first adoption was therefore a dangerous signal to send out. If closure on the file today partially restores the much-needed regulatory certainty, the compromise is far from perfect. The new text fails to fully protect with a grandfathering clause the huge investments undertaken by our industries in the past decade. It also imposes disproportionate reporting obligations on all operators based on ILUC factors, which are not cohesively supported by the international scientific community.”

The organization stated that the EU biodiesel chain looks forward to tackling the future of renewable transportation in Europe “in a different way,” adding that the debate on biofuels post-2020 needs to be “more pragmatic” and “based on real facts and perspectives.”

The direct contribution of biodiesel to substitute diesel imports from Russia, or improving the environmental profile of diesel-powered transportation “should be evaluated more objectively,” EBB stated.

On behalf of the entire EU biodiesel chain, EBB Secretary General Raffaello Garofalo said, “Our industries stand ready to open a constructive dialogue with all stakeholders and will strive to continuously improve the sustainability of biodiesel in order to fully contribute to the decarbonization of fuels in the EU in the next decade.”

For advanced biofuels, or biofuels from certain types of wastes or residues, the new law says that EU member states will have to set a national target, no later than 18 months after the EU directive enters into force, for the share in total transportation consumption.

The association known as the Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels, which represents the advanced biofuels industry in the EU, welcomed the conclusion of the ILUC file and its acknowledgement of the benefits of advanced biofuels, but it stated that the compromise endorsed by parliament “lacks concrete and harmonized measures.”

“Our industry has been calling for regulatory certainty for years,” said Marko Janhunen, chair of the LSB. “What has been agreed now is a first step but uncertainty continues. An opportunity to kick-start the roll-out of advanced biofuels in the EU has been missed. Our industry provides solutions to EU’s climate, energy, environmental and industrial policy. All of these subjects are at the core of EU policy today. We hope that Member States will show leadership and implement the subtarget in their national policy creating the certainty needed for the new and emerging advanced biofuels industry.”

Janhunen called for genuine discussions today on how to reduce GHG emissions in the transport sector after 2020. “To capture the potential of GHG reduction, job creation, increased energy security and high-tech investments by advanced biofuels, concrete EU policy measures and actions are needed to justify investments,” he said.

Torvalds was unsure whether the law passed April 28 was tough enough. “We had much higher goals, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and technological progress,” Torvalds said. “If Europe doesn’t move forward, it will be left behind. We also have the systemic problem of the blocking minority in council, which sometimes develops into a dictatorship of the minority, with member states who are afraid of the future.”