Biofuels

In an attempt to set aside a protracted controversy surrounding the environmental damage caused by biofuels, the European Commission came under heavy criticism after proposing to phase-out conventional biofuels by 2030. The Executive presented its draft proposal to review the Renewable Energy Directive for the post-2020 period as part of a Clean Energy Package.  The European Commission has alluded to the fact that its revised Renewable Energy Directive will scrap reference to “at least 10%” renewable energy in the transport sector.

Land use conflicts in the food and feed sectors from bioethanol production are a growing problem.  Bioethanol is produced from crops such as wheat, maize, sugar beet and sugar cane.  Now an EU-funded project has succeeded in creating a second generation biofuel from agricultural residues and therefore avoids the land use conflicts with the food and feed sectors.

The European Commission started a consultation on whether the EU needs to do more on the environmental impact of shipping. The consultation is open until 22 April.

A consultation on the 2009 EU Maritime Strategy opened this week, as part of a mid-term review. It asks whether the strategy should place greater importance on shipping’s environmental performance. The Commission inquiry also aims to find out whether respondents “see a strong trade-off between the environmental performance and the competitiveness of the EU maritime transport sector”.

Energy ministers of EU Member States have failed to agree on a common position on a Commission proposal to amend directives on biofuels. The European Parliament adopted its first reading position on 11th September 2013.

The aim of the Commission’s proposed amending directive is to start a transition to biofuels that deliver substantial greenhouse gas savings when also estimated indirect land-use change emissions are reported, while existing investments should be protected.

Reform of EU biofuels policy may not be possible during the current European Parliament’s term if MEPs continue to delay talks with member states. The proposed changes to the 2009 directives on renewable energy and fuel quality would limit the production of crop-based biofuels in Europe and take account of their climate impacts through indirect land use change. A vote will now be held on 17 October during the Environment Committee meeting on whether to give rapporteur Corinne Lepage (ALDE) a mandate to open trialogue talks with the Council and Commission.

Normally the presence of Blue-green algae is not generally met with great excitement in Europe’s tourist beaches and lakes.  But all this may be about to change. A team of European scientists is on a mission to prove that blue green algae can be used to produce bioethanol as a biofuel for less than 40 cents (€) a litre.   The EU-funded project DEMA ('Direct Ethanol from MicroAlgae') is focusing on cyanobacteria - a microalgae found in almost every terrestrial and aquatic habitat, including in oceans, lakes and damp soil, and on rocks.

According to the EU’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) if biofuels received no EU policy support, the price of food stuffs such as vegetable oil would be 50% lower in Europe by 2020 than at present.  With more than half of all vegetable oils due to be used for biodiesel production in 2020, any decrease in biodiesel production will strongly affect the vegetable oil market the new report confirms.