“We are asking for a level playing field or the scrapping of incentives that cover the biodiesel industry,” said Paul Nash, the Airbus head of environment and new energies.
EU plans to include the indirect effects of displaced land use in their measurement of greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels were due to be published this spring. But behind the scenes, they have become stuck in protracted negotiations.
Some sources say that the two key figures in the debate, Climate Action Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger have reached a consensus on the vexed question of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) behind the scenes.
They have done so before.
In minutes of a July 2011 meeting between Hedegaard and Oettinger, seen by EurActiv, the two agreed that “feedstock-specific factors would seem to be the most effective solution to address ILUC” and should be introduced “in 2016 if possible, or at the latest in 2018”.
A review would be initiated at the end of the current Commission’s mandate in 2014, according to the paper.
The ILUC issue would be addressed “in the short term by raising the threshold for greenhouse gas emissions savings to a more ambitious level in order to phase out the worst performing biofuels,” the minutes say.
But wrangling within the Commission over issues such as whether the proposals should be included in the Renewable Energy Directive, the Fuel Quality Directive, or both, has hampered progress.
EurActiv understands that following the involvement of Commission Secretary-General Catherine Day in the negotiations, consultations have now been launched with other Commission directorates, potentially delaying the proposal further.
Biokerosene more expensive than biodiesel
Biodiesel, which is primarily used in road transport, may eventually be deemed one of the ‘worst performing biofuels’ with leaked EU data putting its emissions on a par with those from tar sands, when ILUC effects are counted.
Last month, the US Environmental Protection Agency also ruled palm oil-based biodiesel inadmissible for its Renewable Fuel Standard Program, because it did not meet the minimum 20% lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions reduction threshold needed to qualify.
Such valuations have in turn fuelled complaints about the incentives that road-based biodiesels proportionately receive in Europe, as a result of the EU’s target to power 10% of its transport system with renewable energies by 2020.
“All of the incentives today in Europe are focused on the production of biodiesel and there are no incentives in terms of aviation,” Nash told EurActiv, referring to the increasing competition for biofuels between the two transport sectors.
Industry insiders argue airlines should be given priority access to sustainable biofuels as aviation will continue to rely on liquid fuels for decades. Road transport, by contrast, has already started its transition to electricity, something that airlines simply cannot do.
“It costs slightly more to make biokerosense than it does to make biodiesel, so if you were a refinery what would you do?” asked Nash. “It is simple economics.”
In all, the EU’s biofuels targets have resulted in a 21% saving in greenhouse gas emissions compared to that from petrol, according to an International Food Policy Research Institute report compiled for the European Commission.
But this figure masks significant variations between different biofuel crops in the study.
While the fuel from bioethanol plants such as wheat, maize, sugar cane and sugar beet, produced an average carbon saving of 56.5 grams of CO2 equivalent per MegaJoule (gCO2eq/MJ), biodiesels such as palm, soybean, sunflower and rapeseed produced a figure of -1.75 gCO2eq/MJ: a net carbon emission higher than petrol.
In response to questions from EurActiv, an EU spokesperson said: “We have been asked to look into the whole issue of ILUC and we are now preparing our impact assessment and proposals.”