Raising Biofuels Blending Levels to Meet Net Zero in the EU

05.11.21 | Blog | By:

Media pundits know the value of awesome figures, whenever possible with many zeros, and no decimals, to strike the public attention and leave a lasting impression. Following are some “striking” figures about biofuels in Europe, as of today and, possibly, or hopefully, for the near future, up to 2035, or later.

The idea is to make accurate estimations – this is not a scientific, peer-reviewed, analysis. To keep it simple, below are some basic assumptions, over-simplified maybe, for the calculations:

  • In the EU, we have 300 million cars, driven on average just over 10,000 km/year according to Transport & Environment; assuming it is a stabilized situation.
  • No sales of new internal combustion engines vehicles (ICEV) as from 2035, to allow a mostly ICEV-free carpool in 2050, assuming 15 years are sufficient for a total turnover.
  • Concerning the 20 million new car sales every year, compliant with the 15 years turnover, linear progression of low- and zero-carbon vehicles (EV, for simplification), rising from 10% in 2020 to 100% in 2035. Used ICEVs are exported from the EU at a rate of 2 million every year, in line with the findings from a recent United Nations study and thus keeping on emitting CO2.
  • ICEVs emit 2 tons CO2 for the average yearly mileage, EVs 0.2 (based on the French ADEME Carbon Calculator: ADEME is the government agency dealing with energy management & control). EVs are clearly favored in France today, thanks to a nearly zero-carbon electricity which is mostly nuclear-based, but, after all, the EU plans for an acceleration towards zero-carbon electricity production.
  • Biofuels incorporation rate in 2020 estimated at 7.5 % in volume.

Now, what should be the right target for biofuels incorporation?

For petrol, E10 is supposed to be the reference grade in the EU. Still, for instance, the UK only aims at introducing this grade this September and, in France, where E10 was introduced in 2009, this grade only made just above 50% in January this year. Now, most studies show new petrol cars could likely accept up to 20-25% ethanol. With a European Green Deal increased objective of 24% renewable energy in transport by 2030, an aggressive 20% ethanol incorporation rate, in volume, seems a sensible objective. It would contribute to half of the Green Deal target. Going beyond would require a widespread adoption of E85 and the technical modification of ICEVs to Flex-Fuel Vehicle status, a cheap and easy affair compared to other decarbonization options.

For diesel, if historic biodiesel, FAME, is likely to remain at an incorporation of 10% maximum (B10), renewable diesel, a.k.a. HVO, can fully replace fossil-based diesel, the limit being more on the supply of sustainable raw materials. Thus, only the diesel price at the pump is likely to limit the incorporation rate of biofuel, joining the main challenge of a low-carbon world: affordability and eventually, social acceptability.

So, let us simulate two biofuel incorporation levels, 20 and 50%, starting in 2025, biofuels allowing a 60% minimum reduction in CO2 emissions compared to their fossil equivalent.

At 20%, the cumulative reduction in CO2 emissions, over the 2020-2035 period, compared with a situation where biofuel blending would remain frozen at 2020 level, is 227 million tons, which would compensate one year of Spain’s emissions.

At 50%, the cumulative value is 770 million tons, similar to Germany’s emissions in one year; or able to roughly compensate every year the emissions from Sweden or Finland.

Obviously, the present 28 million tons per year biofuels production capacity in the EU, even running at two-thirds of its capacity today, would fall short of this future demand. Reaching a 20% incorporation rate would be quite doable, requiring less than 10 million tons per year additional capacity to meet peak demand during this decade and is easier to do with mature technologies, such as cellulosic ethanol and HVO. No doubt the European Green Deal, Covid-19 Recovery, Just Transition programs can fund this effort. And this capacity, along with the gradual decrease in liquid fuels demand, from the shrinking ICEV pool, would then allow a gradual increase of the biofuels incorporation rate, close to 50% by 2035.

As Mauro Petriccione, EU Commission Director General for Climate Action, explained in a recent great interview with George Washington University, we face a lot of uncertainties with the net-zero-carbon 2050 target: will the right technologies be developed and deployed in time? Well, biofuels bring a mature answer to these valid questions, now, in 2030, in 2050, and even further out if necessary. And it would bring along a lot more local, qualified, jobs for the farming and forestry sectors, for waste and residues collectors and for biofuels manufacturers and technology licensors. Growth and jobs for all is also on the European Commission’s agenda.

Awesome, isn’t it? Yes, keep in mind biofuels are one readily available transition solution for a greener transport, now and in the future.



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