The implementation of the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) remains to a large extent the responsibility of the member states, EU sources told EURACTIV.com, in light of ongoing fraud investigations into the practice of mixing palm oil with cooking oil (UCO).
According to the RED II, used cooking oil (UCO) is double counted. Double-counting means, for instance, that if UCO’s consumption is 2%, it will be counted as 4% of the total energy used in transport. Thus, it’s an attractive solution for the member states who wish to meet their green transport goals.
However, in practice, things get more complicated. The UK and the Netherlands recently launched official investigations into companies, which have allegedly been selling unsustainable biodiesel containing palm oil.
Critics suggest that there is a hidden link between UCO and palm oil, which is decided to be phased out due to its high-ILUC (Indirect Land Use Change) risk.
“UCO is often not what it appears to be, and if not of European origin, palm oil is often masquerading as UCO through international adulteration. It is in the interest of the climate and the European biofuel industry to shed light on the dark side of UCO,” a source from the EU biofuel industry told EURACTIV on condition of anonymity.
An EU source said the Commission has been given some powers, including the recognition of biofuel certification schemes (so-called “voluntary schemes”), but “the member states are for instance responsible for the design of support schemes, which may affect the risk of fraud, and the supervision of certification bodies that are conducting independent auditing under the voluntary schemes”.
In its 2016 report on the EU System for the Certification of Sustainable Biofuels, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) had warned about the hidden dangers of double-counted biofuels and particularly UCO.
“The EU certification system for the sustainability of biofuels is not fully reliable because of weaknesses in the Commission’s recognition procedure and subsequent supervision of voluntary schemes,” the report said.
“Considering the inadequacy of the checks to verify the origin of biomass consisting of waste or residues, it cannot be excluded that data on double counted biofuels might include quantities of biodiesel certified as produced from UCO, whilst, in reality, the feedstock may have been from virgin oil or fraudulently denatured virgin oil,” it added.
The EU source explained that the executive still has an important role to play and will take several measures that are relevant in this context.
“First, the Commission will put in place a central database tracing all renewable fuels including all biofuels and second, it will set out detailed certification rules to be applied by the voluntary schemes in an implementing act.”
“Both measures have been agreed as part of the Recast Renewable Energy Directive to mitigate the risk of fraud by increasing transparency and by introducing stricter and more harmonised certification rules,” the source said.
EURACTIV also asked if the EU has data about the palm oil percentage in used cooking oil, but was told that statistical data on the consumption of biofuels and the palm oil percentage is not available.
However, Eurostat reported for 2016 a combined consumption of biofuels produced from both used cooking oil and animal fats of 3,8 Mtoe.
“The Renewable Energy Directive does not distinguish between different types of used cooking oils (i.e. the type of vegetable oil used for the cooking) because used cooking oil is a waste and the use of wastes and residues for biofuel production is considered best practice,” the EU source said.
However, in the RED II directive, UCO is not considered waste but as “feedstocks for the production of biofuels and biogas for transport, the contribution of which towards the minimum share established in the first subparagraph of Article 25(1) shall be limited and may be considered to be twice their energy content”.
The RED II directive also provides a 1.7% cap on UCO. However, several member states, including Ireland, have already exceeded it. Asked what the EU executive is planning to do to address the issue, the source said:
“The provisions regarding the limit set out in the Recast Renewable Energy Directive for biofuels produced from used cooking oil and animal fats apply only to the amount of biofuel that can be counted towards the renewable energy targets but do not affect the amounts of such fuels consumed in the member states. The Commission will ensure that these rules are respected.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]