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Biofrontiers: EU Must Prioritize Support for Advanced Biofuels

10.12.16 | Blog | By:

Yesterday the European Climate Foundation and its stakeholder partners put forward policy recommendations to the European Commission on how better to support the development of advanced biofuels in the EU. Among other findings, the group has called for prioritizing support for advanced alternative fuels while those biofuels that do not deliver on climate targets should be phased out. The Commission is currently crafting a legislative proposal reviewing its Renewable Energy Directive that is expected December 7 (in addition to other policies to mitigate climate change and increase energy security).

Under the Biofrontiers platform, the stakeholders representing producers, technology developers and NGOs explored the technical, economic and environmental issues associated with developing the next generation of low-carbon fuels for more than a year. The group:

  • Explored supply chains for low-carbon fuels, ranging from wastes and residues from households, forestry and agriculture to energy crops grown on land with low economic and environmental value.
  • Analyzed the risks that investors face when developing these fuels and how policymakers might act to enable those investments.
  • Examined sustainability issues that determine how far this finite resource can be used responsibly.

Numerous papers on these topics are publicly available here.

The group acknowledged that even with deep decarbonization in the transport sector, there will be a need for “sustainable liquid fuels:”

“We know that 2050 European transport will be much less dependent on petroleum fuels, due to a spectrum of measures from vehicle efficiency to green driving to electrification. Despite this, we can also be sure that even while overall oil dependency is reduced, a significant fraction of European transport is likely to rely on sustainable liquid fuels. Developing a sustainable low carbon fuels industry is the only way to achieve further decarbonisation in this rump of demand.”

Recommendations

Recommendations included the following:

  • Sustainability – “Energy and climate policy for 2030 should ensure deep cuts to lifecycle emissions and safeguard food, soil, water and biodiversity. Incentives should be linked to the availability of sustainable feedstocks. Site-specific assessments are needed to create confidence in feedstock supply chains.”
  • Carbon-Intensity – “It has already been widely recognised that EU energy policy for 2030 should be focused around fuels with low carbon intensity and should phase out support for biofuels that do not deliver on our climate goals. Within that, support for advanced alternative fuels should be prioritised. In this regard, performance-based targets – founded upon full life-cycle analysis of direct and indirect emissions – offer one option for rewarding those fuels that deliver the greatest net greenhouse gas savings, and thereby growing the impact of sustainable biofuels in the marketplace.”
  • Incentives – “With robust sustainability assurance, there is a compelling case for strong advanced alternative fuel incentives. This should take the form of a realistic and responsible binding target for fuel suppliers for advanced alternative fuels in 2025, with a higher target range set for 2030. The level of the 2030 target would be conditional upon the outcome of a mid-term review to establish whether the 2025 target has been met in a sustainable manner and that a higher 2030 goal is achievable and can contribute to transport decarbonisation goals. A higher target-range could also be set for 2035 during this 2025 review.”
  • Competing Uses – “Alternative fuel policy will not be politically stable unless consistent with other EU policies. Policymakers should have regard to other objectives in forestry, climate, agriculture and waste management. Where there may be competition between liquid transport fuel production from wastes and other waste management options, policy should ‘encourage the options that deliver the best overall environmental outcome’, as required by the Waste Framework Directive.”
  • Innovation – “The technologies available today are not the only solutions that have a role in long-term transport decarbonisation, and many feedstocks may be able to contribute to very low carbon fuels. Therefore, any 2030 policy framework should be designed with flexibility to allow novel fuel technologies and different feedstocks to be eligible for support as they arrive on the market, subject to life cycle analysis and sustainability assessment.”

Challenges

The group noted two challenges with respect to advanced biofuels: sustainability and investment security. With respect to sustainability, the group said, “There is no single off-the-shelf example that Europe can look to for effective regulatory assurance of sustainability for these advanced alternative fuel technologies. Europe has to develop these tools itself.”

The greatest challenge to investment is offtake risk.

“For the advanced biofuel industry to be successfully commercialised, it will require the introduction of policy that guarantees long-term, secure value to project investors. This policy framework should be focused on fuels with low carbon intensity and should provide clear visibility around its goals in order to foster confidence and investment in the low carbon fuel industry.”

Such policies could include national blending targets, CI reduction targets (that account for indirect land use change) and low carbon fuel use requirements on fuel suppliers.

All this is good news for advanced biofuels players, and maybe a death knell for first-generation biofuels producers. Or maybe not. Is it possible those players can improve their carbon intensities (CI) and stay in the game? That has happened in California, where first-generation ethanol producers have reduced – in some cases substantially – their CIs. I’ll be talking to one of the key members of this project, Dr. Chris Malins of Cerulogy, about this, Biofrontiers and other questions on the future of biofuels in Europe in a forthcoming podcast. Look for it!

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