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During the Council meeting, Energy Ministers will discuss the Commission’s proposal that intends to address ILUC emissions from biofuels. All fuel blenders assessed in the study, with the notable exception of Esso, achieved lower greenhouse gas emissions than fossil diesel and petrol, due to relatively high shares of low-ILUC biofuels such as biodiesel from waste and residues and bioethanol in their biofuel mix .
The study, commissioned by green groups BirdLife Europe, the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), Natuur & Milieu and Transport & Environment (T&E), compares the environmental performance of the biofuels sold in the Netherlands in 2011 and ranks fuel blenders based on average GHG emissions of the biofuels they supplied. Out of the 27 EU countries, only the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have legal requirements for transparency which oblige fuel blenders to report on the sustainability of the biofuels sold into their markets .
The study found that biofuels from Esso, the international trade name for oil giant ExxonMobil, on average emitted even more CO2 emissions than fossil fuels. This is primarily due to the company’s high use of high-ILUC biofuels, mainly biodiesel from rapeseed (59% of Esso’s total). The Commission’s impact assessment shows that biodiesel from rapeseed, palm oil or soybean causes higher greenhouse gas emissions than fossil diesel when ILUC emissions are included. Esso’s high use of conventional biodiesel in their blend closely matches the EU average of 57%.
In contrast, Salland, a small Dutch fuel supplier, and Argos, a much larger fuel blender, achieved an average of almost 75% GHG emissions savings. They did not use high-ILUC conventional biodiesel and chose instead low-ILUC feedstocks such as used cooking oil and tallow, a type of animal fat.
T&E’s programme manager for fuels, Nusa Urbancic, said: “Once again, this study illustrates how much Europe can gain by introducing ILUC factors and shifting away from high-ILUC towards low-ILUC biofuels. Since Esso’s biofuels match the EU average, its dismal performance shows what happens if Europe fails to change direction.” She added: “We urge the Energy Ministers meeting this Friday in Brussels to include ILUC factors in biofuels’ sustainability criteria so that drivers will not be forced to fill up their cars with unsustainable biofuels.”
This atypical and low-ILUC biofuel mix can likely be explained by specifics of the Dutch market and Dutch policies. The high use of low-ILUC bioethanol in the Dutch biofuel mix can be partly explained by the lower penetration of diesel cars in the Netherlands – below 30% of the total car fleet, while the European average is well above 50%. Additionally, the Netherlands was one of the first EU countries to introduce mandatory reporting in the sustainability performance of biofuels, which is another factor that may have contributed to a better-than-average performance.
To further encourage responsibility and a level-playing field across Europe, the study suggests that other European countries should also be transparent about the biofuels they use and that the European Commission ensures that the data are available in all Member States.
EEB’s Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer, Faustine Defossez, stated: “This report demonstrates that transparency in biofuel markets could help drive down C02 emissions.” She added: “European countries should follow the UK and the Netherlands’ lead and act now for more transparency on the biofuels they use.”
BirdLife Europe’s EU Agriculture and Bioenergy Policy Officer, Trees Robijns, concluded: “It is a great shame that currently only two countries out of 27 have transparency rules in place. As it stands we risk multi-national companies shifting their more environmentally damaging biofuels to countries that do not have reporting obligations in place.”
(1) ILUC is the process by which land previously used to grow crops for food is converted to grow crops for fuel. Food will have to be grown elsewhere, usually in new, unfarmed land, because demand for food will at least remain constant. This conversion of unfarmed land into new farmland results in an overall increase in GHG emissions, eroding the environmental benefits EU biofuel policy is meant to deliver.
(2) Calculations have been made with the indirect GHG emissions factors of Annex VIII of the European Commission’s proposal of 17 October 2012 on amending the RED and FQD to include ILUC (EC, 2012a).
(3) The RED leaves to Member States’ the decision to make the data on the use of biofuels publicly available. The RED has been implemented by the Dutch Decree on Renewable Energy in Transport of 18 April 2011 (retroactive to 1 January 2011).