Biofuels: The Next Generation


With ethanol and biodiesel coming under increasing criticism for driving up food prices and putting biodiversity at risk, the EU has committed to 'second-generation' biofuels as a clean alternative for transportation - but many challenges remain before they find their way into our cars.

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At the March 2007 European Council, EU leaders committed to raising the share of biofuels in transport from its current level of around 2% to 10% by 2020, with a view to reducing Europe's dependency on oil and contributing to the fight against climate change. 

The 10% target is binding - under the condition that the biofuels produced are sustainable and that so-called 'second-generation biofuels' become commercially viable. 

The conditionality is linked to increasing concerns about the sustainability of those first-generation biofuels currently available - such as biodiesel and bioethanol - which are made from agricultural crops (such as corn, sugar beet, palm oil and rapeseed).

But during negotiations over the new Renewables Directive, fears of rising food prices and biodiversity loss as a result of land being diverted to biofuel production, and questionable CO2 reduction values have led to calls for the reduction or outright rejection of the target. 

The European Parliament's industry and energy committee, despite confirming the 10% target by 2020, asked for at least 40% of this goal to be met by "non-food and feed-competing" second-generation biofuels or by cars running on green electricity and hydrogen. MEPs also backed stricter "sustainability criteria", including an obligation for biofuels to offer at least 45% carbon-emission savings compared to fossil fuels (EurActiv 12/09/08).

Consequently, the December 2008 EU summit endorsed a compromise on the 10% biofuels target, moderating the target to include other renewable sources (EurActiv 05/12/08).  

For more information on first-generation biofuels, see our LinksDossier on Biofuels for transport, as well as EurActiv 24/10/06 and EurActiv 30/01/07