MEPs push European Commission to reveal used cooking oil origins

Under proposals tabled by the Commission, biofuels derived from UCO are set to play a key role in decarbonising the EU’s transport sector. [Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com]

Greens EU lawmakers have sent a formal letter requesting that the European Commission provide data on the origins and quantities of used cooking oil (UCO) imported into the bloc, putting further pressure on the EU executive to allay fraud concerns surrounding UCO imports.

The MEPs’ letter follows a finding of “maladministration” towards the European Commission by the EU Ombudsman, a Strasbourg-based watchdog, for refusing to furnish information on UCO imports following a citizen request.

Addressing the heads of the Commission’s environment, transport, and green deal portfolios, five MEPs from the Greens/EFA group highlighted a recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) that suggests much of the UCO imported into the EU may be fraudulent, with restricted palm oil used to bulk up batches.

EU biofuel plan increases risk of fraudulent imports from Asia: study

EU proposals aimed at cutting transport emissions risk boosting the amount of fraudulent used cooking oil (UCO) imported into the EU, according to a new study by the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT), a US-based non-profit organisation.

“It is particularly disappointing that the Commission does not disclose such information given the serious concerns over the origin of biofuels used in Europe and the fact that such information is in the public interest,” the letter said.

“By refusing to disclose this information, the Commission only feeds concerns about such fraud, and ultimately undermines credibility in sustainability efforts in the field of transport,” the MEPs wrote.

The five MEPs – Ciarán Cuffe, Jutta Paulus, Ville Niinistö, Martin Häusling, and Rasmus Andresen – requested that all data obtained under voluntary certification schemes be made public and sent to the European Parliament by Friday 29 April.

Under the voluntary certification schemes, private entities must submit yearly reports to the European Commission on the production and import of certified biofuel feedstock, such as UCO.

‘Maladministration’

A 2020 citizen request for UCO import information was refused by the European Commission on the grounds that the information was not contained in a single document. 

The complainant sought the help of the EU Ombudsman, who indicated to the Commission that the complainant would accept the documents in a fragmented format. However, the Commission continued to withhold the data, a move the ombudsman called a “deliberate and inexplicable refusal” to settle the case.

In a written statement, the European Commission rejected the ombudsman’s recommendations and upheld its decision not to provide the documents.

The ombudsman subsequently found the European Commission guilty of maladministration for its refusal to cooperate with the complainant, writing in her judgement that the Commission’s actions “contradict the principles of citizen friendliness and service-mindedness”.

EU Ombudsman corners Commission after denial to unveil used cooking oil data

The European Commission has until February 2022 to comply with the EU Ombudsman’s recommendation to provide data related to the origins of imported Used Cooking Oil (UCO) biofuel in the EU, amid concerns over alleged fraud cases.

According to MEP Cuffe, one of the signatories of the letter, the Commission’s behaviour raises concerns.

“With this maladministration judgement and allegations of fraud in the biofuels sector, it seems the Commission has something to hide,” the Irish MEP told EURACTIV.

“I urge the Commission to publish all the information it has on biofuels so legislators on Fit for 55 files are fully aware of the associated risks,” he added.

Under proposals tabled by the Commission, biofuels derived from UCO are set to play a key role in decarbonising the EU’s transport sector. However, the EU is incapable of producing enough UCO to satisfy the bloc’s demand, leading to high levels of import, primarily from Asia.

The Commission proposals would channel waste-based biofuels into hard-to-electrify transport modes such as shipping and aviation. All jets refuelling at EU airports will be required to uplift a set percentage of sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) under the proposed ReFuelEU Aviation regulation.

While electro-fuels are expected to be predominant in the long term, in the short term, waste-based biofuels are likely to meet the majority of SAF demands in the EU.

Given the potential for fraud, Cuffe has called for a cap on the quantity of biofuels that can count towards green jet fuel targets.

Industry reaction

On 10 March the European Commission adopted stricter standards for certification schemes, imposing more stringent controls on the UCO supply chain – a move broadly welcomed by the waste-based biofuels industry.

Brussels has also pledged to roll out its much-delayed “track and trace” biofuels database by 1 January 2023. The database will record all feedstock and biofuel transactions, better allowing regulators and customers to validate the sustainability of biofuels.

These extra protections were hailed as positive steps by the European Waste-based & Advanced Biofuels Association (EWABA) .

“We are particularly satisfied because the database will go far beyond the narrow [Renewable Energy Directive] scope as it will ensure full traceability until the point of origin of the feedstock. Once both systems are in place there will be no opportunities for unsound market practices,” Angel Alberdi, EWABA secretary-general, told EURACTIV.

Alberdi additionally called for a cap to be placed on the use of waste oils for the production of jet fuel, arguing that the process to refine UCO into aviation fuel is much more energy intensive than doing so for road vehicles or ships, making it less climate efficient.

“It is true that wastes and residues are limited by nature, therefore the EU legislator must use them in the most efficient way. Prioritising waste oils for aviation in detriment to road (especially heavy duty) and maritime use is a bad policy choice,” said Alberdi.

“This prioritisation will deal a massive blow to the waste-based and advanced biodiesel industry with production facilities in rural areas of most EU member states, and quite importantly, severely limit investment in much needed novel SAF technologies using scalable feedstocks,” he added.

E-fuels are currently available in paltry quantities and are highly expensive, meaning significant investment will be required to ramp up production to meet future demand.

EWABA has expressed concerns that cheaper waste-based biofuel feedstocks will be appropriated by the aviation industry, leaving a shortfall for the decarbonisation of other transport modes, raising overall transport emissions.

Ringfencing waste oils for jet fuel won't benefit the climate, researcher says

Using biofuels from waste lipids to meet the EU’s proposed sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) mandate will leave a shortfall in other transport sectors, erasing any net climate benefit, Chelsea Baldino of the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has said.

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