European biofuel producers were disappointed by a key vote in Parliament yesterday (11 September), which, though confirming a binding 10% target for renewables in transport fuels by 2020, shifts the focus away from agro-fuels and provides for a "major" mid-term review, which they say threatens investment in the sector.

The European Parliament's Industry and Energy Committee backed a report drafted by Luxembourg Green MEP Claude Turmes which calls for a 5% share of renewables in transport fuel by 2015 and a 10% target by 2020. 

Shifting away from agro-fuels 

The text nevertheless specifies that at least 20% of the 2015 target and 40% of the 2020 goal must be met from "non-food and feed-competing" second-generation biofuels or from cars running on green electricity and hydrogen. 

This shift away from agro-fuels has been hailed by NGOs. But biofuel producers are angered that the new text effectively translates into a mere 4% biofuel target by 2015 – marking a regression compared to the goal of 5.75% by 2010 that the EU set itself back in 2003 and based on which the industry has already made heavy and irreversible investments. 

Strict sustainability rules 

The Turmes report also specifies that traditional first-generation biofuels, made from crops such as sugar, rapeseed or corn, would only count towards the target if they meet strict sustainability criteria. This includes social sustainability criteria, including respect for the land rights of local communities or the fair remuneration of all workers, as well as an obligation for biofuels to offer at least 45% carbon emission savings compared to fossil fuels – a figure that would rise to 60% in 2015. 

These figures are much higher than those originally proposed by the Commission (merely a 35% saving) and also more ambitious than those currently under consideration by national governments. Indeed, after months of infighting, member-state representatives appear to have found a consensus on a two-phased approach initially requiring biofuels to offer a 35% CO2 saving that would then be scaled up to "at least 50%" in 2017, subject to a review in 2014. 

The final figure will be crucial to the industry as, typically, biodiesel made from European-grown rapeseed results in a greenhouse gas saving of 44% while the typical figure for ethanol made from EU sugar beet is 48%. 

2014 review sparks investment fears

What's more, the parliamentary committee is demanding that, before 2015, a full review of the whole EU biofuel promotion policy and its social and environmental impacts be carried out to determine whether the targets need revising. 

This review should "focus on consequences for food security, biodiversity and the availability of electricity or hydrogen from renewable sources, biogas or transport fuels from ligno-cellulosic biomass and algae," the text reads. 

Such a clause is strongly opposed by both biofuel producers and the European Commission, which fear it will create even more uncertainty and deter investments in the sector. 

Strong parliamentarian support 

The Industry and Energy Committee approved the compromise text by a strong majority of 50 in favour and just two against, and Turmes is confident the report will win the backing of the Parliament plenary when it votes on the dossier in October. "What more can you expect from a plenary vote," he noted.