Biofuel markets and sustainability: facts and figures from the EC progress report on renewables

In accordance with the reporting requirements set out in the 2009 Directive on Renewable Energy, every two years the European Commission publishes a report on the progress of renewable energy in the Union. The report assesses Member States’ progress in the promotion and use of renewable energy along the trajectory towards the 2020 renewable energy targets. The latest report was published last 27 March and also covers the sustainability of biofuels and bioliquids consumed in the EU, as well as the impacts of this consumption. Here is a bief summary of the main findings of the report.

Production and consumption of biofuels

In 2010, the use of renewable energy in transport was 4.70%, consisting of:

  • 13.0 Mtoe of sustainable biofuels or 4.27%;
  • 1.3 Mtoe of renewable electricity, or 0.43%.

• Between 2008 and 2010, the volume of biofuels consumed in the EU increased by 39%, whereas the volume of petroleum fuels consumed in road transport decreased by 3.5%. Five Member States (France, Germany, Italy, Spain and UK) represent more than 70% of the biofuels market.

•In 2010 about 75% of the biofuels used in the EU was biodiesel, while 21% was bioethanol and about 4% resided in “other liquid biofuels”. Only 1.4% (177 ktoe) of all EU consumed biofuels was produced from wastes, residues, non-food cellulosic material, and ligno-cellulosic material (so-called double counting biofuels).

60% percent of  EU consumed biodiesel feedstock in 2010 was produced within the EU, while Argentina was the largest biodiesel exporter to the EU. About 80% of the EU consumed ethanol feedstock for transport was produced in the EU, while the largest share of imports came from Brazil and the U.S.

Adoption of sustainability criteria

13 voluntary schemes for certifying the sustainability of biofuels have been approved by the Commission so far. Regarding the transposition of the biofuel sustainability criteria of the Directive into Member State’s legislations, the report shows that there are still some gaps though legal proceedings have begun to ensure that effective sustainability regimes are in place.  At the same time, the main exporting countries (Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, and Malaysia) have adopted new regulatory measures to improve their environmental practices in biofuels related areas.

Regarding measures for air, soil and water protection, the report  finds that all current EU agricultural practices obligatory under EU Common Agricultural Policy and environmental legislation, apply to biofuel feedstock production and as such, separate biofuels-specific measures are not necessary.

Land use and social impact

The global net land use for biofuels consumed in the EU is less than 3Mha. Within the EU estimates range from 2% (Poland) to 6% (France) of national cropland. Outside the EU the land dedicated to the production of feedstock for EU biofuels is less than 1% of the cropland.

Overall it is estimated that the the EU biofuels consumption generated 220,000 jobs in the EU and 1.4m jobs globally, in 2010.

Regarding the social sustainability of biofuels,  the report states that given the time lags between land acquisition and biofuels production and flaws on the ILC Land Matrix database, it is not yet clear if EU biofuels demand contributes any abuse of land use rights in non EU countries, however the monitoring of this issue must continue. The Commission states that it is particularly important to assess whether EU biofuels consumption has contributed in any way to the significant food price increases and impact on food affordability that occurred in 2008 and 2011 and the poor U.S. 2012 harvest, and to what extent other factors such as bad weather, bad harvests, rising global demand, increased oil prices have also contributed.

An analysis developed on behalf of the Commission has found that grain use for bioethanol production constituted only 3% of total cereal use in 2010/2011 and is estimated to have minor (1%-2%) price effect on the global cereals market. As far as biodiesel is concerned, though EU biodiesel consumption is greater than ethanol, the estimated price effect on food oil crops (rapeseed, soybean, palm oil) for 2008 and 2010 was only 4%.

GHG emission savings of biofuels use

The 4.7% share of biofuels is estimated to have generated 25.5 Mt CO2eq savings, though this estimate does not include indirect agricultural intensification effects or indirect land use change effects which might have reduced the actual CO2 savings from biofuels. When these emissions are included, estimated savings are significantly reduced. For this reason the Commission has proposed amendments to the Fuel Quality and Renewable Energy Directives, to more firmly take account of indirect land use change effects resulting from EU biofuel consumption. The proposal includes limiting the contribution that food-based biofuels can make towards the 10% target to 5%, enhanced incentives to encourage the development of second generation biofuels from non-food feedstock, like waste or straw are proposed. This proposal is now with Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and will clarify EU biofuels policy up to 2020.


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