EU agriculture ministers welcomed the Commission's biomass and biofuels strategy but also expressed concerns about agricultural production. Some governments want to restrict the imports of biofuels (esp. ethanol) from countries such as Brazil and encourage domestic production of biofuels instead (esp. biodiesel, where the EU is already world leader).
At a meeting on 8 June 2006, EU energy ministers said the EU's biomass and biofuels strategy should focus on R&D aspects (second generation biofuels, bio-refineries, efficient boiler technologies, etc.) and on ensuring the smooth functioning of markets at EU and global level. But they insisted on leaving EU member states free to determine their own policy approach and to choose the sectors in which biomass is used: heating, cooling, transport biofuels or electricity generation. The ministers also invited the Commission to:
- review waste legislation to "further encourage the use of biomass and clean waste as fuel", and;
- "review the animal by-products legislation with a view to encouraging the use of farming and food processing by-products as a renewable energy source".
On the same day, the Commission launched a Biofuels Technology Platform to coordinate biofuels and biomass research and development policy. Led by industry, the platform is expected to produce a European strategy for producing biofuels that are compatible with present-day infrastructures, in particular for transport applications. A "vision paper for 2030 and beyond" was presented at the launch conference which will form the basis of a forthcoming strategy.
The oil industry, through its European association Europia, said it acknowleges the advantages offered by biomass such as reduced import depency and lower CO2 emissions. But it warned about food and energy price increases that it says will result from biofuels support policies. "The costs of today’s biofuels exceed significantly those of the conventional fuels they are expected to replace. As a consequence introduction of biofuels will cause the EU energy bill as well as food prices to increase," Europia said. In addition, it said the EU would not be able to produce enough biofuels to meet its 2010 target. "Therefore, any further ambitions will require unrestricted access to imports," it said.
Europia sees heat and power generation as the areas where biomass offer the most promising prospects. "Any regulatory follow-up to the Biomass Action Plan should give priority to these applications," it argues.
Josef Auer, an analyst at Deutsche Bank Research, describes bioenergies as "the all-rounders among the renewables, since only biomass is equally suitable for the generation of electricity and heat as well as the production of fuels". He says the prospects of bioenergies are especially positive in the heat market, where they already contribute more than 90% to Germany's heat provision coming from renewable energies.
Environmental groups WWF, Greenpeace, BirdLife and the EEB warned the Commission to ensure that the biomass action plan "include adequate environmental and social safeguards". "If managed sustainably, bioenergy can help us to cut greenhouse gas emissions and restore degraded land," said Ariel Brunner, BirdLife's Agriculture Policy Officer. "However, poorly managed production does little to reduce emissions and can have a devastating impact on the environment."