It’s Time for Europe to Do Better on Biofuels

In recent months, the EU has taken important steps towards strengthening energy independence and food security while sticking to ambitious commitments in the fight against climate change. But it keeps sending mixed signals when it comes to making the best use of an immediate, cost-effective and socially inclusive solution to all these challenges: sustainable biofuels.

One example is the agreement reached by EU Member States in June on a de facto ban on sales of cars with internal combustion engines in 2035. Basically, EU policymakers have placed all their bets for transport decarbonization on one technology that is growing but still not widespread: electrification. In doing so they have further minimized the role that renewable ethanol could play in reducing emissions from the petrol and hybrid cars that Europeans continue to buy and drive.

Europe needs a range of solutions to decarbonize transport—including renewable ethanol—not just one technology that isn’t yet fully attainable for all segments of society. A more realistic EU approach would make it clear to EU citizens that there are no “zero emission” cars. Measured on a full lifecycle, there are always emissions and always costs. A socially inclusive transition to carbon neutrality should empower all citizens and all countries, not just those who can afford new technologies and infrastructure.

As part of its review of what constitutes “CO2 neutral fuels,” which the agreement allows in 2026, the Commission should take into account the proven and immediate GHG-reduction performance of EU renewable ethanol, and recent studies that show plug-in hybrid vehicles running on high-ethanol blends have lower GHG emissions than battery electric vehicles on a full-lifecycle basis.

But there was more encouraging news in July, when the European Parliament’s ITRE Committee voted decisively in favor of increasing the ambition for GHG emissions reduction in transport and allowing Member States to continue using crop-based biofuels in their transport energy mix. The ITRE position largely maintains the framework for crop-based biofuels as proposed by the European Commission, with a crop cap set at each Member State’s 2020 final consumption of energy in transport, allowing +1% flexibility with a maximum of 7%. ITRE members signalled that sustainably produced crop-based biofuels, such as renewable EU ethanol, do play an important role in transport decarbonization—today and tomorrow.

Now it is up to the full European Parliament to decide in plenary in September on a final position. With so much at stake on the issues of EU energy independence, food security and climate change, it is clear the Parliament needs to recognize the potential of sustainable crop-based biofuels as an important component of EU renewable energy policy until 2030 and beyond.

The GHG emission-reducing performance of EU renewable ethanol is significant and keeps improving every year, to the current level of 76.9% on average compared to fossil fuel. Importantly, ePURE members’ biorefineries in the EU produced more animal feed than fuel that year—simultaneously creating food, feed and renewable fuel while boosting rural economies and providing secure and affordable energy.

The equation is simple: Crop-based biofuels such as renewable ethanol are by far the main renewable energy source in EU transport. Restricting the contribution of such biofuels to climate targets only opens the door for even more reliance on fossil fuel. That’s something no one wants.

The question is whether EU policymakers are willing to stop sending mixed messages and be clear that biofuels have a role to play in the drive to carbon neutrality in European transport.

Author: David Carpintero
Director General
ePURE, the European Renewable Ethanol Association
[email protected]

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