EU ethanol companies produced more animal feed than fuel last year

Some 4.48 million tonnes of high-protein animal feed were produced thanks to the generation of ethanol in Europe in 2021. [FUN FUN PHOTO / Shutterstock.com]

This article is part of our special report Biofuels’ role in displacing oil.

The production of bioethanol in Europe has led to greater yields of animal fodder than fuel in 2021, new figures show – further evidence that biofuels can also contribute to food stability, according to the industry.

Data gathered by the European ethanol trade association ePURE found that, for the first time, their members produced more animal feed co-products than renewable ethanol.

The results were certified by Swiss auditing firm Copartner.

Some 4.48 million tonnes of high-protein animal feed were produced thanks to the generation of ethanol in Europe, feed that would have required importation, primarily from Latin America, or additional cultivation.

Green NGOs have portrayed the production of crop-based biofuels as problematic on both environmental and food security grounds, using food shortages experienced in the wake of the ongoing war in Ukraine to demand an end to crop-based biofuels.

“Ethanol and biodiesel produced from agricultural crops have negative impacts on climate and the environment. As the UN reports, the war in Ukraine has exacerbated steadily rising global food prices, worsening the situation around food security,” Laura Buffet, energy director at the green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E), told EURACTIV.

“In a context of food insecurity, there is no role to play for biofuels produced from agricultural commodities like vegetable oils or cereals,” she added.

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Acute food insecurity will likely deteriorate further in 20 countries over the coming months, according to a new report from the world’s major food organisations, who warn the current situation is already worse than during the 2011 Arab Spring.

T&E are among a group of NGOs calling on EU governments to immediately ban feed crops for biofuel production, warning that continuing to do so may lead food prices “to spiral out of control”.

The ethanol industry rebutted the accusation, arguing that biofuels not only lessen the need for imported fossil fuels, but that the protein feed for animals yielded from the production process bolsters food security.

“Many times over we have demonstrated with documented facts that the industrial, agricultural, economic reality is food and fuel,” said Valérie Corre, the president of ePURE, speaking at a recent EURACTIV conference.

Corre explained that in addition to producing animal feed, EU bioethanol production results in sugar and starch.

“If the biofuel market is undermined, it is clear that this food production would be at stake,” she said.

Biofuels also serve to strengthen farmers’ revenues, which encourages them to continue producing food in Europe, Corre argued.

“It’s a very complex issue. You can’t summarise a complex issue with something that sounds like an ultimatum: ‘food vs fuel’,” she said. “I hope that the decision makers will follow the fact-based approach which is ‘food and fuel’, and not so much the emotional one which is ‘food vs fuel’.”

Corre also highlighted the small agricultural area used to cultivate ethanol in the EU, which amounts to 2.2% of the EU’s arable area.

“If it was so simple to eradicate hunger by stopping the production of bioethanol, why on Earth didn’t we stop it before? Because it’s more complicated than that,” Corre added.

Biofuels’ impact on food security debate resurfaces amid Ukraine war

The war in Ukraine has reignited the “food vs fuel” argument surrounding crop-based biofuels, with allegations that the EU’s demand for ethanol and biodiesel exacerbates food security concerns. The biofuels industry has branded the claims “ridiculous”.

Emissions reduction

According to ePURE data, the level of greenhouse gas emission reduction of EU-produced ethanol compared to fossil gasoline hit a new high, reaching 76.9%.

“The new data once again confirm what we have known for years: that renewable ethanol is the most cost-effective GHG-abatement solution the EU has,” said David Carpintero, Director General of ePURE.

Curtailing biofuel production is a political mistake, according to Carpintero, who stressed that despite the rise of electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, petrol and diesel cars will continue to run on European roads for decades to come.

“Phasing out sustainable biofuels such as renewable ethanol – as some policymakers want to do – doesn’t just go against common sense, it also opens the door for more reliance on fossil fuel. Nobody wants that,” he said.

The renewable ethanol industry has touted the crop-based fuel as the most cost effective way to decarbonise road transport, arguing that when life-cycle emissions are taken into account, high blends of ethanol surpass hybrid and battery electric vehicles.

According to an industry-funded study, the fossil fuel-heavy EU electricity mix coupled with the carbon intensity of battery production mean that battery electric vehicles save less greenhouse gas emissions than an internal combustion engine car running on E85 fuel on a full-life-cycle basis.

Sales of high-blend ethanol surge in France amid rising fuel prices

Record fuel prices seen since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have led cost-conscious motorists to pivot towards alternative fuel sources, with sales of E85 – a mixture of petrol and up to 85% bioethanol – rising significantly in France.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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