‘Greenwashed oil’ set to win from renewable transport targets, biofuel industry claims

Rapeseed oil (pictured) is one of the main crops grown in Europe for production of biofuels, [Lee Jordan/Flickr]

Biofuel producers in the Visegrad countries plus Lithuania and Bulgaria have warned that a phase-out of biofuels will lead to a phase-in of ‘greenwashed’ fossil fuels under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), as it currently stands in the Council’s proposal.

The group of countries argues that setting a 12% target for renewable energy in transport and multiplying the contribution from electric vehicles by a factor of five, as currently proposed by the Council, would lead member states to achieve the target nominally, but actually only a small share of transport will be powered by electricity and advanced biofuels, the rest will be provided by fossil fuels.

“If we talk about that 12% and you can reach the target with a small amount of electricity but highly multiplied, there will not be more renewable energy in transport. It will be just more fossil fuels,” Zuzana Jakubičková from the Slovakian biofuel association said.

That is why they are asking  the European Commission to be “technologically neutral” when it comes to renewable energy in transport, and not weigh in favour of electricity.

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Danail Kamenov from the Bulgarian biofuel association said: “Greenwashed oil would be the major beneficiary of RED II. Even if the most optimistic forecast of 280 million electric cars on the world’s roads by 2040 is realised, this would still represent less than 1% of global CO2 emissions, so other tools should also be taken into account to reduce the GHG emissions significantly.”

The electricity multiplier is already part of the current RED framework but it has not delivered the expected results: currently, electric vehicles account for only 1% of market share.

But green groups argue that a high, additional multiplier for electricity is required, on the grounds that electricity is 2.5 times more efficient than liquid fuels in terms of ground covered, hence its use in transport should be further encouraged from a resource efficiency point of view.

“It’s not creative accounting,” said Laura Buffet of Transport & Environment Europe: “You will always achieve more kilometers with electricity than with liquid fuels.”

She also disputed the argument about oil phase-in: “It is unfair to use the oil argument, it does not reflect the reality of things since 80% of biofuel consumed in Europe is biodiesel.”

Biodiesel produced from crops such as palm oil and soybeans has a worse greenhouse gas impact than fossil fuels due to indirect land use change, which led the Commission to exclude it from its recast Renewable Energy Directive.

“If something has a worse performance than oil, it shouldn’t be used,” said Buffet.

More than half of EU biodiesel made from imported crops, study finds

Some 53% of EU biodiesel is made with imported feedstock, according to a recent analysis of European Commission data by NGO Transport and Environment, and almost half of imported palm oil is burned in car engines.

Rural jobs

Biofuels producers are claiming that foregoing incentives for crop-based biofuels would have negative consequences for the farming sector of Visegrad countries, something that the governments of V4 plus Bulgaria and Romania have already warned the Commission by signing a joint declaration last month.

The farmers’ lobby claims that 220.000 rural jobs depend on the biofuel sector. However, a 2015 analysis from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, estimates the number of jobs directly linked to the EU biofuels industry at around 12,000 in 2015.

Visegrad and Balkans hit out at Commission over biofuels phase-out proposal

The Visegrad and three Balkan countries signed a joint declaration urging the European Commission to reconsider its proposal to gradually phase-out the first generation biofuels after 2020 and think about the consequences.


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