A Ecofys study published yesterday – on behalf of the European Oilseed Alliance (EOA), the European Biodiesel Board (EBB) and the European Vegetable Oil and Protein meal Industry (FEDIOL) – gives new life to biofuels and certainly brings new elements to the debate on ILUC, currently at a standstill. After months of speculation and criticism on the little emission reductions actually provided by biofuels when ILUC is factored in, this study re-energises pro-biofuels arguments. It argues that the European Commission based its conclusions – hence its legislative proposal to amend the RED and FQD – on wrong assumptions and underestimated the benefits of biofuels by as much as 50%. Check this EurActiv articles that provides a useful summary.

In fact, benefits of biofuels should be calculated by comparing the carbon footprint of the fossil fuels they would replace in the market. Ecofys found that in the absence of biofuels, fossil fuels used in the market would not be traditional fuels, as considered by the Commission, but marginal fuels which are mainly unconventional fuels such as oil sands, tar sands and oil shale. The starting assumption of the Commission would therefore considerably underestimate the GHG reduction impact of biofuels. The fossil comparator used by the commission is 83.8 gCO2eq while the study estimates that the marginal GHG emissions reduced by the use of biofuels would amount at 115 gCO2eq.

Without entering into too many details such as estimated carbon intensity and average blend comparator, the key point of this study is that unconventional fuels have a higher carbon footprint compared to traditional fuels and they cover – and are likely to cover even more in the future – a growing share of the market. Calculation of GHG savings for biofuels should therefore be based on this assumption.

As I always argued in my previous blogs, biofuels are one of the few realistically viable ways to decarbonize transport and it is reassuring to see that this study re-legitimises them in their original role. The intense debate on biofuels which took place in recent years resulted in a lack of a clear legislative framework and uncertainties for the future of both the Fuel Quality and the Renewable Energy Directives. On top of all this, the implementation of the FQD is still unfinished, with MEPs currently trying to reject the implementing measure on Article 7a. Needless to say that the biofuels sector will benefit greatly from the extension of the FQD post-2020 and even more if the fossil comparator is adapted to take into account the carbon footprint of non-conventional fuels as recommended by this Ecofys study and by the MEPs advocating for the rejection of the current text of Article 7a, something that has not been done yet for, presumably, political reasons. As the study itself says: “Proper implementation of Article 7a of the Fuel Quality Directive could provide a strong incentive to avoid the fuels with the worst greenhouse gas performance and thereby reduce the average emission factor of EU transportation fuels […]while at the same time driving improvements in the greenhouse gas performance of biofuels”.

Let’s hope that the Commission will take into account these new findings as well as the call by EU leaders to examine instruments for “renewable energy sources in transport” post 2020.

More on transport and biofuels at our event “Think Energy. Think Brazil. Perspectives on the 2030 Energy and Climate Package” on 19 November!

Géraldine Kutas

Géraldine Kutas

A seasoned professional specializing in international trade policy, Géraldine Kutas leverages over a decade of experience to strengthen UNICA’s activities across the European Union, the United States and Asia. She has a deep expertise in biofuels and agricultural policies, coupled with extensive exposure to multilateral and regional trade negotiations in agriculture. Ms. Kutas is the author and co-author of several international publications on these topics.

Before joining UNICA, she was a researcher and a professor at the Groupe d’Economie Mondiale at Sciences Po(GEM), Paris, and coordinator of the European Biofuels Policy research programme (EBP). Ms. Kutas has also worked as a consultant at the Inter-American Bank of Development and for agro-business firms.

Ms. Kutas has a Ph.D. in International Economics from the Institut d’Etudes Poliques de Paris and a Master degree in Latin American Studies from Georgetown University, Washington DC.