Five months ago, Brussels published a report it had commissioned from the Frauenhofer research institute in Germany into the environmental impact of different EU policies and measures, including the 2003 biofuels directive. But officials held back an annex to the report which calculated in kilograms of CO2 per gigajoule the indirect carbon footprint of various biofuels caused by indirect land-use change. This prompted the institute to partly disown the published report.
Following a request by the Reuters news agency under EU access laws, the annex has been released, and it shows biodiesel from North American soy beans with an indirect carbon footprint of 339.9kg, four times the level of 85kg for conventional petrol or diesel.
Other biofuels are better but still inferior to conventional fuels. Biodiesel from European rapeseed scores 150.3kg, while bioethanol from European sugar beet is 100.3kg. The best biofuels are bioethanol from Latin American sugar cane at 82.3kg and from palm oil from south-east Asia at 73.6kg, but there are other environmental concerns linked with palm oil.
T&E policy officer Nusa Urbancic said, ‘For the third time in six weeks the Commission has been forced to release studies about the climate effects of biofuels, and for the third time these studies show that land use is the most important factor in determining if biofuels make sense or not.’
The Commission says it withheld the annex to the report because the methodology used to work out the values for each biofuel is ‘controversial’. The Frauenhofer institute admits more work has to be done, but says its overall findings – that there are inefficient biofuels and care must be taken over a fuel’s origins – still stand.
The Commission has been given until the summer to respond to the legal action taken by T&E and three other NGOs in March. The action is to force the Commission to release more documentation on the indirect land-use effects of biofuels.