New fraud investigation casts doubt over used cooking oil origins

“Fraud with biofuels is unacceptable. That’s why in the EU, we have called for stricter oversight of private certification,” a Dutch diplomat told EURACTIV. [Shutterstock/yortzafoto]

A fresh biofuels fraud investigation in the Netherlands has once again shone a spotlight on the origin of imported used cooking oil (UCO) in the EU.

The investigation, carried out by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (ILT) together with Dutch investigative services earlier this month, involved a raid on an unnamed biofuels company in an investigation into large-scale biofuels fraud over suspicions of forged certificates for biodiesel.

The concerns are that biofuels that have not been sustainably produced are registered and sold as a sustainable fuel.

This is something that can “generate big profits for fraudsters,” ILT spokesman Ernst Koelman told Dutch media company DVHN.

A number of expensive cars, he added, were confiscated due to “sufficient grounds to believe that they were obtained with illicit means.”

EU lacks 'complete overview' about used cooking oil origins

The European Commission does not have a “complete overview” of the origin of used cooking oils used for the production of biodiesel consumed in the EU, but appears set to tighten the rules, EURACTIV has learned.

Used Cooking Oils (UCO) are considered waste-based and are double-counted under the EU’s renewable energy directive to decarbonise Europe’s transport sector.

But the current directive does not distinguish between domestically collected oils and those imported from third countries. Critics also suggest some of those oils contain palm oil, which the EU decided to phase out in order to slow deforestation in tropical countries.

Last year, the UK and the Netherlands launched official investigations into companies which have allegedly been selling unsustainable UCO containing palm oil.

In September of this year, the EU Ombudsman launched a process over the European Commission’s refusal to grant public access to documents regarding the origin and amount of UCO reported by all voluntary certification schemes for biofuels sustainability under the Renewable Energy Directive.

“Fraud with biofuels is unacceptable. That’s why in the EU, we have called for stricter oversight of private certification,” a Dutch diplomat told EURACTIV.

EU database on the cards

EURACTIV was informed that the Commission is currently working on the development of an EU-wide database designed to trace whole value chains, from collection and production of the raw material to fuel consumption. This has been conceived specifically for value chains entailing high fraud risk.

Sources said this would improve the traceability of fuels and facilitate the detecting of potential irregularities.

On the basis of this data, member states, the Commission, and operators would then be able to assess the content of the raw material and fuels they are using, they added.

“Events like this show that there is still work to do to ensure that the used cooking oil imported to Europe for biofuel is sustainable,” Cristina Mestre, biofuels manager of campaign group Transport and Environment, told EURACTIV.

“We follow closely these cases and we ask the Commission and member states to ensure that robust verification and chain of custody are in place to avoid the fraudulent use of UCO in Europe.”

She added that a recent analysis from the NGO found that UCO is increasingly being imported from China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“However, in view of the global climate fight, we recommend that Europe focuses on domestic UCO that can be traced and verified more easily, to ensure it is really used,” Mestre said.

Report: Europe’s imported UCO mainly comes from China and palm oil producer countries

A new report has found that more than half the Used Cooking Oil (UCO) used in Europe for biodiesel in 2019 was imported (1.5 million tonnes out of 2.8 million tonnes).

Referring to the previous investigation in the Netherlands and the UK, EU waste biodiesel producers (EWABA) told EURACTIV last year: “Without prejudging the outcome of the investigation, we are supportive of action against whoever breaks the rules and takes advantage of the immense majority of the industry doing the right thing”.

In an op-ed published by EURACTIV, EWABA also said UCO biodiesel is “best in class to decarbonise road transport“.

Used Cooking Oil biodiesel: best in class to decarbonise road transport

The Used Cooking Oil biodiesel (UCO) is best in class to decarbonise road transport and therefore, it attracts “bullying”, writes EU waste biodiesel producers (EWABA).

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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