EU green jet fuel proposal shuns crop-based biofuels, focuses on next generation

A KLM aircraft is refueled at Schiphol Airport, the Netherlands, 18 June 2021. [EPA-EFE/KOEN VAN WEEL]

Proposed EU legislation aimed at cutting flight emissions by ramping up the use of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) has excluded the use of first-generation biofuels, arguing they bring “limited environmental benefits”.

The proposal, tabled on Wednesday (14 July) as part of the EU’s wide-ranging “Fit for 55” climate package, comes as a blow to the crop-based biofuels industry, which had pushed for the inclusion of feedstock such as soy and rapeseed in the definition of SAFs.

“For sustainability reasons, first generation biofuels such as feed and food crop-based biofuels, which have limited scalability potential and raise sustainability concerns, should not be supported,” states the ReFuelEU Aviation proposal.

According to the legislative text, crop-based biofuels are excluded “because of their limited environmental benefits, limited greenhouse gas savings potential, and the fact that such biofuels are in direct competition with the food and feed sectors for access to feedstock.”

Under the EU executive proposal, SAFs must be derived from advanced biofuels, which stem from agricultural and forestry waste, and from electro-fuels, such as green hydrogen.

“Our proposal supports the most innovative, scalable and sustainable aviation fuels, including dedicated sub targets for e-fuels,” said transport commissioner Adina Vălean, speaking to reporters. “We are preparing Europe to be a front runner and to lead production of sustainable alternative fuels globally.”

Industry dismay

The crop-based biofuels industry has reacted with dismay, questioning why the Commission is content to allow the use of biofuels to decarbonise cars but not aircraft. Within the EU, biofuels can be blended up to 7% with diesel.

“The Commission’s differentiated approach for road, aviation, and maritime, with different sustainability regimes and limits on feedstocks for biodiesel, is not logical,” André Paula Santos, public affairs director of the European Biodiesel Board (EBB), told EURACTIV.

Santos criticised the lack of regulatory support for crop-based biofuels within the EU’s proposals for the aviation and maritime sectors, a view echoed by EBB president Kristell Guizouarn.

“One set of sustainability criteria should apply to all transport modes: what is sustainable on European roads should be sustainable in the sea and sky,” Guizouran said in a statement.

Renewable ethanol association ePURE said EU measures to phase out feedstock deemed to contribute to indirect land use change, such as palm oil, have already settled the question of biofuel sustainability.

“We know that deforestation and outdated ‘food vs. fuel’ arguments do not apply to EU renewable ethanol… we should be taking the next logical step and unleashing the potential of good biofuels,” said Emmanuel Desplechin, Secretary-General of ePURE.

Decarbonising aviation

Under the ReFuelEU Aviation proposal, all aircraft that depart from an airport inside the bloc will be required to refuel using a kerosene and SAF blend.

The SAF blending requirement will increase over time, rising from 2% in 2025 to 5% in 2030, reaching 63% In 2050.

A sub-target has been set for e-fuels, which should reach 0.7% of SAFs by 2030, scaling up to 28% in 2050.

SAFs, which are up to five times more expensive than kerosene and available in limited quantities, account for less than 1% of jet fuel used in the EU at present.

But Brussels predicts the blending mandate will supercharge production and see prices fall to more competitive levels.

The proposal will push the aviation sector to transition away from fossil energy, according to Commissioner Vălean.

“We [will] reduce aviation CO2 emissions by 5% by 2030, and 60% by 2050 just by this proposal alone,” she said.

Other measures put forward by the European Commission to decarbonise aviation include placing a tax on kerosene and phasing out free airline carbon market allowances, which will force carriers to pay more for emissions.

The ReFuelEU Aviation proposal will be negotiated by lawmakers in the European Parliament and Council before a final version enters into force, a process which could take two years.

Aviation is considered responsible for around 3% of global emissions.

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”.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]


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