Linking biomass policy to key EU policy sectors such as agriculture would create a win-win situation that would help the bloc deliver its Green Deal goals and create a sustainable market, a number of stakeholders have told EURACTIV.
“An integrated policy for biomass is needed to support simultaneously sustainable agricultural models, agricultural and forest residues, and alternative transport fuels through well-designed chains, such as sustainably managed crop rotations and cover cropping. These feedstocks can be part of the raw materials base for advanced biofuel production,” said David Chiaramonti, scientific coordinator of the ART Fuels Forum.
Chiaramonti added that sustainable domestic supply chains will support post-COVID-19 economic recovery and bring a large amount of organic carbon back to the soil, addressing key elements of both Energy and Agricultural Directives as well as UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), key elements in Europe’s Green Deal.
The Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which among others aims to decarbonise the EU transport sector, defines biomass as “the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues from biological origin from agriculture, forestry and related industries including fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste”.
As part of the new Green Deal, the Commission aims to re-visit a number of pieces of legislation including the revised RED. Biomass is part of RED II and it’s considered as low indirect land-use change (ILUC) risk biofuel.
However, advocates of advanced fuels for transport say policymakers should break silos and create an integrated market hand in hand with the future green goals of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The industry says it is a “unique opportunity” to design a European biomass policy that will be integrated across sectors to deliver high alternative fuels shares in the transport markets.
“Bio-based alternative fuels can offer unique opportunities for agriculture and rural development in European regions. Their market uptake can be facilitated with sector integrated policies for biomass value chains that will be in line with the European Green Deal, the REDII and the post-2020 CAP,” said Calliope Panoutsou, a sustainable feedstock advisor at the ART Fuels Forum.
Stabilising food systems?
Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmers and cooperatives association, views such an idea in a positive light.
“We agree with the general approach. We have always pointed out that the CAP provides a comprehensive sustainability tool for the EU agriculture sector,” Copa’s Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen told EURACTIV.
He added that the integration of biofuels into the European agricultural value chains works both ways: it improves valorisation of the biomass for farmers and other operators while it gives an important sustainability baseline for the biofuels themselves.
“In the best case, biofuels enable us to stabilise our food systems, make them more robust and resilient against market volatility. Food security has been very much on focus during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” he emphasised.
Nils Torvalds, a Finnish MEP from the centrist Renew Europe Group, said if climate challenges were to be taken seriously, it should be made clear that there will not be one huge leap to climate neutrality.
“For this reason, we need to see different intermediate solutions, which then by the development of technologies can be transformed into zero-emission processes or sinks. This is probably very much true for bio-solutions developed in cooperation with farmers. Here, different biomasses can play a huge role,” he told EURACTIV.
Biomass can be used elsewhere
However, not everybody agrees with this approach. Laura Buffet, clean fuels manager at sustainable transport of the NGO Transport & Environment, raised serious concerns about linking biofuels with the CAP.
“Biofuels produced from agricultural crops are not a sustainable option to decarbonise transport and they shouldn’t be supported further through the CAP. Waste and residues from sustainable agriculture can be used to produce cleaner fuels; however, the quantities of these sustainable resources that can be mobilised for energy will remain limited,” she said.
Similarly, Green EU lawmaker Bas Eickhout told EURACTIV the type of biofuels the industry is thinking of still requires land.
“We have the REDII in place, and I can assure you, it is not without reason that this directive caps the maximum amount of land-based biofuels that member states are allowed to count as renewable. The biofuel industry is looking for ways to circumvent those new rules.”
According to Eickhout, the bigger the demand for this type of fuels becomes, the more land is needed, and the more biomass is diverted from other crucial uses.
“There is no such thing as a free lunch. Legislators should be pushing no-regret solutions instead, especially electrification, solar and wind. And the good news is: that creates much stronger opportunities for local communities and rural economies,” he said.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]