Phasing out fossil fuels in transportation and other aspects of life is no longer just a matter of climate change. The war in Ukraine has underlined the urgency of reducing the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels. This is where sustainable biofuels from crops, waste and residues come into play.
POLITICO Studio spoke with Kristell Guizouarn, President of the European Biodiesel Board (EBB), a non-profit organization bringing together European producers of biodiesel from all feedstocks. She spoke about the Fit for 55 package and how sustainable biodiesel can help decarbonise Europe’s energy and transport sectors.
Q. EU countries face a huge challenge: phasing out fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 90% by 2050. How can biodiesel help the EU to achieve this goal?
A. Transport is a complex sector, requiring a wide range of solutions to move away from fossil fuels. Switching to electric vehicles won’t be enough to meet 2030 climate goals, and the electrification of road transport won’t happen overnight, with today’s buses, trucks and cars having to stay on the road for years.
Sustainable biodiesel is one of the solutions that can already significantly reduce transport emissions. Each ton of biodiesel replacing fossil fuels saves more than three tons of direct CO2 emissions. It can be blended with fossil diesel, or replace it entirely, without the need to modify existing infrastructure or engines. And, in addition to road transport, it is also a solution for sea and air transport.
Q. In addition to decarbonizing transportation, what are some of the key benefits of biodiesel?
A. Biodiesel plays an important role in the production of fuel and food. For example, more than 9 million tonnes of rapeseed – around 40% of biodiesel produced in the EU – is used for biodiesel production, while the protein-rich by-product is available to farmers as feed for animals. It is therefore a big win-win that helps the EU meet its climate targets and offset the need for animal feed imports, while providing additional income to the farmers who grow the crops.
Another great advantage is that waste does not have to be wasted. Waste and recycling companies deliver used cooking oils and animal fats generated by consumers or industrial processes to modern biodiesel refineries, supporting the EU circular economy and reducing emissions.
And then there’s glycerine, bio-naphtha, lecithin, bio-LPG, and several biochemicals, all by-products from refineries to replace fossil fuel-based chemicals in everyday products like as cosmetics, food and polymers.
Q. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine highlighted the urgent need to replace fossil fuels. What was the impact of the war on the biodiesel industry in the EU?
A. The war in Ukraine disrupted the supply of certain raw materials such as sunflower and corn, and generated high market volatility, as well as an increase in energy prices. This has led some critics to say the EU’s demand for ethanol and biodiesel is exacerbating food safety concerns. But biodiesel production does not reduce food availability. It’s the opposite: the production of biodiesel uses only excess fats that cannot be consumed as food. So, by growing more biodiesel crops, we add more protein to the food supply. We wouldn’t have so much European rapeseed if the biodiesel market didn’t exist.
Moreover, any national measure aimed at lowering fuel prices by reducing the mandates for the incorporation of biofuels would not achieve the desired impact. Instead, they would cause serious damage to the European agricultural sector, as well as to food supply, protein and energy independence, also jeopardizing our fight against climate change.
Q. The European Commission has presented a revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED) as part of the Fit for 55 package. What would you like to see in the final text?
A. Overall renewable energy targets should be as high as possible for the EU to meet its Green Deal targets. This is why we support increasing the greenhouse gas intensity reduction target in the transport sector from 13% to at least 16% by 2030.
To achieve increased decarbonization targets – and, in turn, growing market demand for biodiesel – it is essential to couple specific incentives for hard-to-decarbonise sectors, such as heavy-duty vehicles, aviation and maritime. , with stable and long-term regulation. support for all sustainable raw materials.
The Commission’s proposal maintains the 7% limit on the amount of crop-based biofuel that can be used in the transport sector and count towards EU countries’ renewable energy targets. It is vital to maintain at least this level. This is why it is worrying to see some MPs and stakeholders pushing to reduce the share of crop-based biofuels.
Q. What other policies in the Fit for 55 package could help industries stimulate the use of sustainable biofuels like biodiesel?
A. First of all, it is important to have a coherent European policy framework for all modes of transport respecting a single set of sustainability criteria. The proposed definition of sustainable aviation fuels in the ReFuelEU Aviation Regulation should be amended to include all sustainable biodiesels, including crop-based, to align with the RED. In the same vein, the FuelEU Maritime regulation should be harmonized with the RED rules.
We also believe that higher biodiesel blend levels – such as B10, B100 and HVO100 – should be incentivized more for road transport, especially for heavy-duty vehicles. These high-level biodiesel blends are currently being used less due to a lack of regulatory and price incentives, even though an increase in biodiesel means a further move away from fossil fuels.
Finally, EU CO2 standards for vehicles only take into account tailpipe emissions, referred to as ‘tank-to-wheel’. This approach favors electric cars and does not encourage low-carbon biofuels. This is why we are proposing to evolve towards a “well-to-wheel” approach taking into account the entire cycle. For cars, we find that the “tank-to-wheel” approach prevails. But we hope EU regulators take a more inclusive approach to the upcoming heavy-duty vehicle regulation.
Q. How do you see the use of biodiesel evolving in the coming decades?
A. We expect a strong increase in demand for renewable fuels. The revised RED, FuelEU Maritime and ReFuelEU Aviation mandates are expected to more than double the demand for renewable liquid fuels by 2030. Biodiesel will be crucial to meet this growing demand, especially for transport modes where electrification is not not a feasible option.