Industry source: one third of used cooking oil in Europe is fraudulent

The UK and the Netherlands recently launched official investigations into companies, which have allegedly been selling unsustainable biodiesel containing palm oil. [Shutterstock]

(Updated with comments from EWABA)

One-third of the used cooking oil (UCO) used in Europe’s biofuels market is more than likely fraudulent, a source from the biofuel industry has told and urged Brussels to “think again” about how the entire supply chain is monitored.

“This is because the approximately 70 countries that supply Europe with UCO do not have the capacity to collect, process, certify and export the nearly 3.5 billion litres that will be consumed here in 2019,” the source said.

“Especially when you consider that many countries outside the EU need much of it in their own domestic markets,” the same source added.

According to the revised Renewable Energy Directive, UCO is double counted. In theory, this 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 that wish to meet their green transport goals.

However, in practice, things get more complicated. The UK and the Netherlands have recently launched official investigations into companies which have allegedly been selling unsustainable biodiesel containing palm oil.

EU sources told EURACTIV last month that the monitoring of the directive implementation remains to a large extent the responsibility of the member states.

EU throws the ball to member states to monitor RED II implementation

The implementation of the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) remains to a large extent the responsibility of the member states, EU sources told, in light of ongoing fraud investigations into the practice of mixing palm oil with cooking oil (UCO).

Critics suggest that there is a hidden link between UCO and palm oil, which the EU has decided to phase out due to its high-ILUC (Indirect Land Use Change) risk.

“In a scenario where UCO attracts super premium pricing due to double-counting, where it is cheap and easy to adulterate virgin palm oil to seem like UCO and where the regulation is not adequately designed to prevent fraud, it is self-evident that much of our UCO is fake,” the industry source said.

“If Brussels assumes that the global UCO supply chain is an ‘honour system’ then it should think again,” the source added.

The European Court of Auditors published a report in 2016 and 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.

Contacted by EURACTIV, an ECA spokesperson said the Court had not followed up its audit of biofuels in detail and thus could not provide a comment.

Laura Buffet from the NGO Transport & Environment commented: “It is crucial that authorities apply a high level of monitoring on biofuels supply chains and conduct investigations when needed.”

‘We are an easy target’

Following the publication of this article, Angel Alberdi, Secretary General of EWABA, the EU waste-based biodiesel association gathering EU UCO collectors and producers of UCO-based biodiesel, commented:

“We reject in the strongest terms these allegations from an unnamed source. Unsubstantiated allegations such as this one are scandalously slanderous and to the benefit of our competitors who are trying to smear our industry for their own advantage.”

He added that UCOME delivers the highest GHG savings as stated in the REDII, is produced in commercial quantities and our customers pay a premium to get the most sustainable molecules.

“UCOME is therefore an easy target,” Alberdi said.

He admitted, though, that there was an ongoing investigation in the Netherlands and in the UK.

“If fraud is eventually proved it will be a good outcome as actual fraud is extremely damaging given that fraudsters benefit from a competitive advantage over the immense majority of industry players who are bearing the costs of processing waste oils and of implementing traceability systems,” he said.

“Our industry is currently working with certification schemes and other industry stakeholders to continue improving traceability in the whole value chain as past fraud scandals have erupted in sectors other than ours,” he added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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