The list of EU-approved sustainable fuel sources should be expanded to meet the higher targets for second-generation biofuels under the updated renewable energy directive, according to the advanced biofuels industry.
An early draft of the EU’s upcoming renewable energy directive, seen by EURACTIV, confirms the bloc’s objective of roughly doubling the share of solar, wind and other renewables by the end of the decade, to reach 38-40% of Europe’s total energy mix.
The leaked draft also includes an increase in the renewables target for transport, from 14% to 26%, and an increase in the sub-target for advanced biofuels, from 3.5% to 5.5%.
Environmental groups have expressed doubts that the target can be met, because advanced biofuels are made from agricultural waste or residues from the forest industry, which are limited in supply.
But the industry dismisses those doubts, saying an enlarged list of approved feedstocks will enable producers to meet the EU’s higher goals using a wider range of renewable energy sources.
“We are confident the higher [advanced biofuels] targets will be met but it is also critically important to see how the Commission enlarges the feedstock list for advanced biofuels which is done separately through a delegated act,” said Marko Janhunen of UPM Biofuels, a Finnish company which produces wood-based alternatives to fossil-based transport fuels.
“With increased focus on both rapid decrease of transport emissions and sustainability at the same time, the increase of the advanced biofuels mandate is a welcome and a logical measure,” Janhunen told EURACTIV.
UPM Biofuels is part of the Advanced Biofuels Coalition LSB, an industry body that comprises 11 companies, which are set to benefit from the reform.
The group says advanced cellulosic ethanol produced from grasses, wood, or algae, are a climate-neutral solution readily available to decarbonise cars or trucks that are currently running on internal combustion engines.
“By the end of this year, Europe’s first commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production plant will be completed by the Swiss company Clariant in Southwest Romania,” the group said in a statement. The plant will produce advanced biofuels made form agricultural residues, such as cereal straw, corn stover, rice straw, or sugarcane bagasse. And other cellulosic ethanol projects are also underway in Slovakia, Poland, and Bulgaria using Clariant’s technology.
Authorised feedstocks for biofuels are set out in Annex IX of the renewable energy directive, which is coming under revision next week as part of a broader package of EU climate laws. The package aims to cut the EU’s CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels as an interim step towards carbon neutrality by 2050.
As a delegated act, the European Commission may add to the list of approved feedstocks in Annex IX based on scientific advice. However, it may not remove items. Currently recognised feedstocks include waste items such as animal manure, sewage sludge, and straw.
Biofuel producers are anxiously awaiting the final version of Annex IX, which will be unveiled on 14 July along with other climate proposals.
The higher targets have raised questions as to whether there will be sufficient availability of sustainable advanced fuels to meet the EU’s goals, as second-generation biofuels are reliant on sources such as forest residue and agricultural waste, which are limited in supply.
In a March 2021 report, the clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment highlighted the difficulty of scaling up advanced biofuels. “The availability of sustainable advanced biofuels will always remain limited, due to the limited amount of sustainable feedstocks available and the competing uses for these,” states the report.
However, the Advanced Biofuels Coalition says they are “certain that there will be no lack of supply” when it comes to meeting the revised targets.
It cited a 2014 study by the International Council on Clean Transportation, which said around 225 million tons of residues could be available in the EU to produce advanced biofuel, with the potential to supply 16% of road transport fuel in 2030.
Draft versions of the renewable energy directive update show that the advanced biofuel targets for 2022 and 2025 will remain as is, with the increase required by 2030. The longer timeframe coupled with greater regulatory certainty will allow the industry to invest in production capacity, according to Robert Vierhout of Enerkem, an advanced biofuels company.
“The [advanced biofuels] sub-target increases gradually and thus will give certain time for further investments,” said Vierhout via email.
Vierhout also called for the EU to maintain the use of advanced biofuels in road transport, arguing that doing so is necessary for the industry to produce at scale.
“The road transport sector is, considering its size, an important biofuel market that must be maintained in order to make the necessary investments in production capacity and to further slide down the cost curve,” he said.
The aviation sector has called for scarce waste feedstocks to be used solely to produce green jet fuel, arguing that, unlike aircraft, road vehicles have efficient decarbonisation alternatives such as electrification.
However, Vierhout rejects the argument that advanced biofuels should be ringfenced for selected transport sectors.
“Aviation and maritime sectors are future markets: Advanced biofuels provide a huge potential for de-fossilising the aviation and maritime sectors for decades to come. Still, advanced biofuels should not be exclusively reserved for aviation and maritime transport,” he said.
“To set the right path, these sectors should be mandated in addition to the current advanced biofuels mandate in RED II,” he added, referencing the renewable energy directive.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]