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  • Half of EU renewables from burning bioenergy

    Bioenergy accounted for more than half of all renewable energy demand in Europe in 2014, according to projections just released by the European Commission. Burning biomass and biofuels account for 47% and 9%, respectively, of renewable energy, versus 11% from wind, 17% from hydro and 7% from solar.

    Biodiesel – a product of crop-based, first-generation biofuels – remains the most widely used form of renewable energy in transport, according to the Commission’s renewable energy progress report. Yet when you take its indirect land-use change emissions into account, the production of biodiesel actually produces more carbon emissions than the conventional diesel they were designed to replace.

    The EU’s target of meeting 10% of transport energy consumption with renewables by 2020 is ‘challenging but remains feasible’, the Commission said. The projected level for 2014 was 5.7%.

    But the report says that given the debate about the sustainability of first-generation biofuels and the fact that there are no alternatives to biofuels in heavy-duty road transport and aviation, additional initiatives will be required. It states: ‘Member States must therefore do more to promote advanced biofuels and enable electrification of their transport fleet.’

    Signalling a shift in thinking on bioenergy feedstock, the Commission’s progress report highlights that the greenhouse gas (GHG) saving requirement in the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive covers only direct emissions and does not include potential impacts from ILUC. These indirect – as well as direct – emissions, were also among the greatest risks to biodiversity caused by biofuel production.

    Some 40% of Europe’s biodiesel feedstock is imported, with Indonesian palm oil and Argentine soybeans each accounting for around 12% of the total EU biodiesel volume. Indonesia and Malaysia were cited as facing biodiversity risks in sensitive areas where palm oil production for Europe is a significant driver of deforestation.

    Carlos Calvo Ambel, energy analyst at T&E, said: ‘While people think of renewables as wind, solar and hydro, in the EU more than half of our renewable energy comes from burning plants in one way or another. We need to be very sure that what we are burning is actually good. If we don’t have strong sustainability criteria for bioenergy, both solid biomass and biofuels, we might be causing more harm than good.’

    Overall, the EU is on track to achieve its goal of sourcing a 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020, although the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are lagging behind other states, the Commission said. This target will rise to 27% of overall energy consumption by 2030.