EU biofuel reform plan risks undermining waste-based fuels: industry

High and rising petrol prices supposedly driven up by Russia’s war on Ukraine have been a significant topic of German public debate since the invasion and the launch of sanctions against Russia. [IADE-Michoko / Pixabay]

The European Commission’s proposal to halt advanced biofuels from being double-counted towards road transport energy targets would diminish the use of waste-based fuels in favour of cheaper crop-based biofuels, a leading industry organisation has told EURACTIV.

Under current legislation, advanced biofuels from waste sources such as used cooking oil and animal fats are counted twice towards road transport targets. But this would come to an end under a recently unveiled proposal by the European Commission, presented in July as part of its ‘Fit for 55’ package of climate laws.

Scrapping the use of so-called ‘multipliers’ – an accounting method that incentivises investment in new and more expensive green technology by inflating its contribution to renewable energy targets – will see waste biofuels “pushed out of the market by cheaper, less sustainable alternatives and investments of billions of euros annihilated” according to the European Waste-based and Advanced Biofuels Association (EWABA).

“The multiplier for wastes and residues has been one of the great success stories of [the EU Renewable Energy Directive]. While it might not be a popular mechanism with the crop-based biofuel industry, for obvious reasons, double-counting has been demonstrated to be extremely effective,” said Leonidas Kanonis, director for communications and analysis at EWABA.

“Maximising the use of genuine wastes is critical to combatting climate change as we all re-double our efforts to decarbonise transport as soon as possible and as much as possible. The use of double-counting has proven to be an invaluable tool and should not be discarded without deep consideration of the consequences,” he told EURACTIV.

According to Kanonis, the EU multiplier scheme has boosted the uptake of waste-based biofuels in countries that may otherwise have looked for alternatives.

As converting waste to fuel requires more technologically sophisticated – and thus expensive – production plants compared to crop-based biofuels, the multiplier bonus made waste-based fuels a more attractive proposition to would-be investors, he remarks.

However, the updated renewable energy directive as proposed in July removes the use of multipliers for road transport. Instead, the European Commission wants to apply a 1.2x boost for advanced biofuels used in the aviation and maritime sectors.

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

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 Commission reasons that road transport can be decarbonised through electric and hydrogen vehicles – technology already on EU roads – while similar technology is not yet mature for jets and ships.

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.

Diverging views

Not all agree that removing multipliers will harm efforts to decarbonise EU road traffic. The Advanced Biofuels Coalition LSB, an industry body that comprises 11 companies, told EURACTIV that the decision to remove multipliers represents “real progress”.

The organisation characterised multipliers as a way for EU countries to meet targets while using only half of the biofuels volume represented.

Those in the crop-based biofuels industry similarly argue that the use of multipliers hides Europe’s reliance on oil and gas.

“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,” Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary-general of the renewable ethanol company ePURE, told EURACTIV in July.

Asked by EURACTIV about the European Commission proposal, MEP Nils Torvald of the centrist Renew Europe political grouping said he was in favour of scrapping multipliers, as double counting “makes the tracking of real progress more difficult”.

In response to criticism that multipliers reduce volume demand, EWABA argues that policy makers can set higher targets that take multipliers into account.

“In this way the old criticism is no longer valid because whatever targets are desired can actually be calculated, set and achieved, while supporting the most sustainable sources for biofuels with double-counting,” said Kanonis.

Long talks lying ahead

Whether multipliers are ultimately removed for road transport remains to be seen. The proposed legislation included in the Fit for 55 package, including the revised renewable energy directive, will now be debated and amended by EU member states and the European Parliament.

The process, which is expected to take several years to conclude, may result in legislation that substantially differs from the European Commission’s original proposal.

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 Frédéric Simon]


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