Europe’s New Renewable Energy Directive

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by Helena Tavares Kennedy

You may have heard that the European Parliament voted in favor of the RED II (Renewable Energy Directive) proposal in January. Probably the most notable (or at least covered in the news the most) was their decision to remove biodiesel made from palm oil from its list of biofuels that can count towards the EU’s renewables target from 2021.

It also voted that “biomass fuels consumed in transport, if produced from food or feed crops, shall be no more than the contribution from those to the gross final consumption of energy from renewable energy sources in 2017 in that Member State, with a maximum of 7% of gross final consumption in road and rail transport.”

The European Parliament also voted to include an overall transport target of 12%, containing a 10% blending mandate for advanced fuels, including electricity, waste-based biofuels and recycled carbon fuels.

The critics

Dick Roche, a former Irish minister for the environment and a former minister for European affairs, and current advisor to the Hungarian company Pannonia Ethanol, told Euractive just last week, “A core element in the Commission’s ‘strategy’ is to phase out conventional biofuels in the hope that they will miraculously be replaced by ‘advanced’ biofuels in Europe’s transport energy mix. The proposals are not backed by science or by logic.”

Roche doesn’t mince words – “They are grossly out of step with what is happening elsewhere in the world,” he told Euractive. “If they are enacted, they will represent one of the biggest blunders the EU has ever made – a blunder with a price tag well in excess of €25 billion.”

As reported in the Digest in January, ePure and farm groups Copa-Cogeca were pushing hard on the yea side while a group of 30 NGOs including WWF and Transport and Energy on the nay side have sent a letter arguing against the use of biofuels in transportation. The European Commission, Parliament and EU Member States have all staked out different positions on how much biofuels can contribute to renewable energy targets for transport.

Environmental groups including WWF Europe, Oxfam, BirdLife Europe and Transport & Environment were hitting out at the proposed Renewable Energy Directive II even last year as reported in The Digest in October 2017. They attached the REDII’s continued support of biomass power where member state governments are allowed unlimited support of co-firing trees and crops at coal-fired power plants, calling it “burning taxpayers’ money” as well as the use of crops for liquid biofuels. They say more stringent sustainability criteria are required to fight global warming and ensure responsible resource use.

Just a few weeks ago, Germany’s UFOP and the FOP – French Federation of Growers of Oilseed and Protein Plants, were appealing to the negotiating partners that are drafting RED II to find an appropriate compromise that protects existing investments and at the same time also encourages investment into the biofuel sector in future. Both associations said in a statement, as reported in The Digest earlier in March, that they “see that this willingness to invest will be threatened if the biofuels that are currently available on the market, especially sustainable biodiesel from rapeseed, are no longer to be used in the future. As a result, the requirements for sustainability of raw materials and for greenhouse gas reduction, with which the EU has set standards worldwide, would also cease. The associations recall that many states are obliged in the Paris climate agreement to submit national climate protection plans. Biofuels from cultivated biomass can make a significant contribution to climate protection and therefore must occupy an important role in the transport sector.”

Beyond biofuels impact

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who recognize the positives of the revised REDII, especially as it relates to markets outside of biofuels, such as bioplastics. As reported in The Digest earlier in March, a press release from the European Bioplastics said that “the new legislation acknowledges that bio-based feedstock for plastic packaging as well as compostable plastics for separate bio-waste collection contribute to more efficient waste management and help to reduce the impacts of plastic packaging on the environment. The legislative package includes the revision of the Waste Framework Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive.”

“The revised Waste Framework Directive allows biodegradable and compostable packaging to be collected together with the bio-waste and recycled in industrial composting and anaerobic digestion, which has already successfully been implemented in several Member States. By 2023, separate collection of bio-waste is set to be mandatory throughout Europe.”

“The Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive acknowledges that bio-based plastics help to minimize the environmental impacts of plastic packaging and to reduce Europe’s dependence on imported raw materials. While Member States are encouraged to promote the use of bio-based recyclable packaging and bio-based compostable packaging, the European legislators miss the chance to introduce concrete legislative measures stimulating their use and improving market conditions for such products.”

“Furthermore, the agreed text makes a clear distinction between biodegradable compostable plastics and so-called oxo-degradable plastics, which shall not be considered biodegradable. This position has also been integrated in the recently published EU Strategy on Plastics, which aims to restrict the use of oxo-degradable plastics.”

The controversy

In case you missed it, the debate continues on palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia and the REDII’s take on banning palm oil altogether. As reported in The Digest in February, either way you slice it, the message is clear from the EU – yes to sustainable advanced biofuels like waste-based biofuels, but no way to food or crop-based biofuels. The EU wants to support biofuels that are good for the environment and sustainable while helping their domestic economy – palm oil from abroad doesn’t seem to fit the bill for either of those two goals.

What they may not realize is that this offers up opportunity for other countries like China to swoop in and up their palm oil imports. But it also offers up opportunity for advanced biofuels and non-food based biofuels to step up their game and take off with much needed support and demand. This is one instance when “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” works. What’s good for advanced biofuels and non-crop biofuels is not so good for palm oil producers.

European Ethanol

Double counting can be an issue for European ethanol – for example, sugar molasses counting as both waste and agriculture products. Eric Sievers, the director of Ethanol Europe, which owns Europe’s largest biorefinery at Dunafoldvar (Hungary), said classifying starch slurry or molasses as waste when they are clearly food or feed products, was “just wrong,” according to Euractive.

“Doing so calls into question the integrity of the Commission in circumstances where the Commission is failing spectacularly in regulating its own standards,” Sievers told Euractive. “The EU starch industry claims to have a ‘zero waste objective’ and states that it produces ‘close to zero waste’. It has quantified waste as less than 1% of its processed materials. With industry output at circa 10 million tons of starch each year, this amounts to 100,000 tons of waste of all types per year. Ethanol production from starch slurry in the EU is well in excess of this theoretical maximum volume of waste and gives rise to the question of why there is such a gap between starch slurry waste output and starch ethanol production levels. The gap remains unexplained.”

Helena Tavares Kennedy is a writer for Biofuels Digest, where this article was first published.  Biofuels Digest is the most widely read  Biofuels daily read by 14,000+ organizations. Subscribe here.

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