EU drops ‘accounting trick’ to boost green fuel in road transport

Under new proposals, presented as part of the wide-ranging “Fit for 55” climate laws package, multipliers will be removed from the road transport sector but remain for flying and shipping. [Scharfsinn/Shutterstock]

The biofuels industry has welcomed the European Commission’s proposal to end the statistical inflation of waste-based biofuels in the EU’s road transport energy mix, a practice they say camouflaged the use of fossil fuels.

The revised 2.2% target for advanced biofuels, such as used cooking oil, is lower than the 3.5% proposed in the 2018 renewable energy directive.

But the scrapping of so-called ‘multipliers’ – which allowed waste-based biofuels to be double-counted towards targets – means the percentage of second-generation biofuels powering EU transport will increase in real terms.

The EU uses multipliers to make it advantageous to opt for more expensive but cleaner means of energy production. But critics argue it obscures the reality of its energy mix.

“The Commission’s proposal to end the use of multipliers is good news for the fight against climate change because it ends what was essentially an accounting trick to hide the EU’s continued dependence on fossil fuels for transport,” said Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary-general of the renewable ethanol company ePURE.

“Using real targets instead of virtual targets means that every litre of renewable fuel used will be displacing a litre of fossil fuel,” he added.

The Advanced Biofuels Coalition LSB, an industry body that comprises 11 companies, similarly called the decision “real progress”.

“The multiplier is mainly a nice instrument for member states to report to the Commission that they ‘achieved’ the renewable energy in transport target, but with only half of the volume,” Robert Vierhout of Enerkem, an advanced biofuels company, told EURACTIV.

The Green Energy Platform, a collection of companies involved in the crop-based biofuels industry, also hailed the jettisoning of what they called ‘market-distorting multipliers’.

Speaking at the unveiling of the updated renewable energy directive, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson said the Commission had “simplified” the approach to multipliers.

“We are keeping multipliers where they boost most the hard to abate sectors – so bringing them into aviation and maritime – to make sure that the decarbonisation efforts go into those sectors as priority,” she said.

Unlike road transport, where electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are already popular, low-carbon planes and ships are not yet market ready. The Commission has set mandates for the use of sustainable alternative fuels, such as biofuels from waste and electro-fuels, to reduce emissions while the technology matures.

However, the Commission’s decision to continue applying a 1.2x multiplier for waste biofuels in maritime and aviation was questioned by the Advanced Biofuels Coalition LSB.

“This multiplier hasn’t had any effect to date and is not needed anymore either, as also in these two sectors mandates are in place,” Vierhout said.

EU targets airlines in climate policy shakeup

Airlines may lose a tax break on jet fuel that has drawn fire from environmentalists, while having to use more non-petroleum alternatives and pay a bigger emissions bill, under major proposals to make Europe the “first climate-neutral continent”.

A new approach

While the biofuels industry has reacted positively to the European Commission’s decision to drop multipliers in road transport, a measure it has long sought, clean mobility NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) argued that multipliers can incentivise greater efficiency if used to spur electrification.

“The question of multipliers is actually more central to recognise the most efficient use of energy – the direct electrification of transport. The multiplier of four for renewable electricity delivered on that and should have been kept [in the renewable energy directive update],” Laura Buffet, energy director of T&E, told EURACTIV.

However, an EU official who spoke with EURACTIV on condition of anonymity said the proposal continues to strongly incentivise renewable electricity.

The official stressed that the revised policy should be viewed in the larger context of EU measures, such as the extension of road transport to the EU’s carbon market, and the increasingly strict carbon standards being placed on vehicles.

Thanks to green electricity’s 100% emissions savings, “renewable electricity used in transport would still be accounted close to four times the amount of conventional biofuels, per unit of energy – an incentive similar to the 4x multiplier”, the official said.

Under the revised proposal, the target for transport emissions reduction is no longer expressed in terms of the energy content of fuels but rather their greenhouse gas intensity.

As a result, renewable fuels are assessed according to their emission savings compared to petrol and diesel, while renewable electricity is compared to fossil-based electricity.

The revised proposal aims to achieve a 13% greenhouse gas reduction through increasing the share of renewable energy in transport. Under the current energy approach, based on energy content in fuel, it would correspond to a renewable energy share increase from 14% to 28%.

The proposed changes are part of the European Commission’s so-called “Fit for 55” legislation, a broad package of energy and climate laws aimed at reducing the bloc’s emissions by 55% by 2030 on the path to achieving net zero by 2050.

Legislation included in the Fit for 55 package will now be debated by EU member states and the European Parliament, a process which could take several years to conclude.

Commission admits fossil fuel share ‘likely’ higher in transport without multipliers

Without multipliers – a statistical methodology used to encourage the uptake of renewable energy in transport, primarily in electric cars –  the share of fossil fuels in transport is “likely” to be higher than the official figures published by Eurostat, a European Commission source told EURACTIV.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]


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Advanced Biofuels Coalition

LSB is a coalition of leading advanced biofuel technology developers and producers committed to making a significant contribution to meeting the EU ambitions of decarbonizing the transport sector. Sustainable advanced biofuels are a fast track solution for decarbonizing transport. Advanced biofuels bring multiple benefits in terms of CO2 reduction, investments, revenues for the agricultural and forestry sector, improved waste management practices, job creation and an increase in energy security.

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