MEP: Clean technology mix needed to decarbonise transport

Referring to sustainable advanced biofuels, Kelly said they can help decarbonise Europe’s transport sector, but they need increased investments. [Photo: European Parliament]

Decarbonising transport is an enormous challenge and there will be a need to deploy a mix of clean technologies to accelerate the transition to a sustainable system, MEP Seán Kelly told EURACTIV.com.

“Electrification will, of course, play a key role but sustainable advanced biofuels, as described in the recently finalised Renewable Energy Directive (REDII), also have the potential to contribute where appropriate and where cost-effective,” the Irish politician said.

Referring to sustainable advanced biofuels, he said they can help decarbonise Europe’s transport sector, but they need increased investments.

“Increased investment into advanced biofuels is needed if they are to make a significant contribution, and I hope that REDII has finally given some certainty to investors, following a long period of policy uncertainty in the sector,” he added.

Kelly’s statement is in line with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which said last year at the COP24 summit in Poland that all mobility-related options should be considered.

In a 2018 report, it said the pace of transition in the transport sector deemed necessary for a 1.5C-consistent pathway must include more biofuels and electricity in transport, the only sector of the economy where emissions continue to increase.

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Particularly in Europe, road transport CO2 emissions have been rising since 2013 and road transport, in general, contributes about one-fifth of total CO2 emissions. While these emissions fell by 3.3% in 2012, they are still 20.5% higher than in 1990.

As part of the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” package, EU member states revised the Renewable Energy Directive in an effort to both boost the use of renewables and help the bloc meet its obligations under the Paris Agreement.

Particularly, the EU decided to set a 14% target for renewables in transport, 3.5% of which should be reserved for so-called advanced biofuels.

Currently, EU member states are drafting their National Energy and Climate Plans (NECPs), which will basically set the precise mixture of renewable energies set to be used to meet climate objectives. The deadline to submit their finalised plans is by the end of the year.

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Advanced or second-generation biofuels are listed in Annex IX of the directive and according to their advocates, they are ready to be deployed to decarbonise transport. But stakeholders highlight the need to have a favorable regulatory environment on a national level.

“New processes and technologies, together with agricultural and forestry sustainable models have been developed by the EU industry and stakeholders, that invested significant resources on bringing innovation to scale,” said David Chiaramonti, scientific coordinator of the ART Fuels Forum, an EU-funded platform specialised in alternative fuels.

“These systems and value chains are now ready to be widely deployed and decarbonise transports, if appropriate market conditions are in place,” added Chiaramonti, who is also president of RE-CORD and professor of Bioenergy at the University of Florence.

Similarly, Theodor Goumas, project manager of the ART Fuels Forum and CEO of EXERGIA, said a clear and strong policy framework is imperative to meet the “2030 GHG emissions reduction targets and the 2050 zero-carbon goal”.

EURACTIV also contacted Adam Brown, Director of Energy Insights Ltd, who said both sustainable biofuels and electrification are needed.

“In the long term because biofuels can provide energy in sectors currently difficult to decarbonise, like aviation and some other long-haul transport sectors and in the short term because electrification of transport is happening only slowly, and biofuels can provide more rapid carbon reductions in transport,” he said.

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Brown added that RED II provides a stable framework for biofuels for the next ten years but at the national level there needs to be policy and regulation which ensures an early market for advanced biofuels (perhaps via specific obligations) and sufficient and certain remuneration to make investments worthwhile.

“Advanced biofuels can only play a limited role if production is not rapidly scaled up,” he said.

“RED II provides a framework to do that but needs to be backed up by national policies and regulation which provide sufficient stimulus that allows investment in further plants which can allow the technologies to mature and costs come down, along with a stable long term price signal that discriminates against high carbon fuels,” he said.

Adam Brown: “Advanced biofuels can only play a limited role if production is not rapidly scaled up.” [IEA Bioenergy Roadmap 2017] [International Energy Agency]

In the past, though, critics suggested that not all advanced biofuels are as “clean” and “sustainable” as the European Commission claims.

In addition, the ethanol industry has said that double or even multiple counting of advanced biofuels and green electricity consumption will increase Europe’s dependency on fossil fuels to cover “real” energy needs.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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