Why are biofuels a key element of Europe’s transport sector?
27 / 11 / 2013, Euractiv
What will transport vehicles use as an energy source in 2030? Those of you who answered gas, electricity or hydrogen may be on the right track. Yet experts predict that liquid fuels will still be the main energy provider for transport– especially so for sectors such as aviation and road haulage, writes Ausilio Bauen.Dr Ausilio Bauen is the director of E4tech, an independent business consultancy dealing with energy issues.
What will transport vehicles use as an energy source in 2030? Those of you who answered gas, electricity or hydrogen may be on the right track – as these sources are becoming increasingly useful to meet our clean energy requirements. Yet future energy scenarios such as the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook predict that liquid fuels will still be the main energy provider for transport– especially so for sectors such as aviation and road haulage.
Biofuels offer a way to produce transport fuels from renewable sources or waste materials and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels. At the Europe–wide level they are also attractive in contributing to security of energy supply and to help Member States hedge against spikes in oil prices. In Europe the most common form of biofuel for transport is biodiesel, which accounts for about 70 percent of its biofuels market. Biodiesel is commonly made from vegetable oils, used cooking oils and animal fats. In fact the European Union is the world leader in biodiesel production – generating approximately half of the world’s supply. While biodiesel will continue to be part of the mix, ethanol (and possibly other oxygenate fuels like butanol) and drop-in diesel substitutes will provide most future supply. These will need to be sourced from sustainable feedstocks, largely waste and residues.
A number of EU policies have been adopted with the aim of reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and the environmental impact of the transport industry, such as the Renewable Energy Directive – which mandates a 10 percent minimum target for renewable energy consumed in transport, and the Fuel Quality Directive – which requires fuel suppliers to meet a 6 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by 2020. This legislation also contains ‘sustainability criteria’ which biofuels must meet, including a minimum GHG emission saving of 35% (to be raised to 60% by 2017), and avoidance of crops cultivated on land with high biodiversity and high carbon stock value, for example forests and biodiverse grasslands. More ambitious sustainability goals have also been recently proposed by the European Commission and are currently under discussion by the co-legislators.
To achieve these targets, it is clear that sustained investment is needed, along with a coordinated input from the automotive and fuel industries. So it may come as a surprise to hear that currently there is no 2030 policy for Biofuels in Europe, or sustainable transport policy. Moreover, there is no coherent vision of how the fuel and auto-industry can meet these targets, and little coherence between EU vehicle and fuel regulations in relation to greenhouse gas emissions reductions. This has led to a fragmented approach to biofuel roll-out across the EU, which stymies investment and risks resulting in confusion and higher costs to consumers and businesses alike. In the coming years, the lack of a clear 2030 policy on GHG emissions in the transport sector will impede the decarbonisation of the European transport sector on a grand scale, and hold back investments in ‘advanced’ biofuels produced from sustainable feedstocks.
To show how the goals set out by the European Commission could be realistically achieved through biofuels, my team at E4tech has developed a harmonised Auto-Fuel biofuel roadmap for the EU to 2030. The key findings show that by 2030, biofuels could contribute between 12 and 15% of energy for the transport sector, representing overall GHG savings of around 8 to 11%. The lion share of production would need to come from biofuels derived from wastes and residues (oils, fats, lignocellulosic materials), which should make up over half the growth in biofuel supply between now and 2030. Advanced biofuels could grow to at least 20% of the biofuels market in Europe in 2030 if the right framework was put in place to incentivise these investments. That means joint action from the auto and fuel industries, supported by a coherent policy framework. It means having an ambitious goal for advanced biofuels uptake in Europe, and a policy that supports this and ensures the broader sustainability of biofuels used.
Without this, Europe risks missing a valuable opportunity in biofuels and decarbonisation. Biofuels, electricity, and in the longer term hydrogen, should all power us to a low carbon transport future.