Door closes on crop based biofuels

23 October, Brussels - MEPs have adopted tighter rules on crop-based biofuels as they look to increase the sustainable use of biomass in the EU. The European Parliament’s environment committee proposed the total phase-out of food and feed-based ‘first-generation’ biofuels, made from sugar, starch, or vegetable oil, by 2030. Advanced fuels, including biofuels from lignocellulosic biomass, are still expected to make up 9% of transport fuels in 2030.

MEPs also set sustainability criteria for biofuels, bioliquids and biomass in order to minimise the risk of unsustainable forest biomass being claimed as ‘renewable energy’, which would therefore benefit from support schemes.

The approved legislative text is part of the ongoing reform of the renewable energy directive, a central piece of the EU energy and climate change policy.

Interest groups were divided over the proposed changes. The European Biomass Association welcomed the committee taking the issue of sustainability “seriously and pragmatically” by allowing solid bioenergy to continue playing an “essential role in the European energy transition”.

Oxfam International countered that while MEPs are “slowly shutting the front door to bad biofuels made from food crops,” they have, “left open the back door.” This refers to an exception for so-called ‘low indirect land-use change-risk biofuels’, which, according to Oxfam, is likely to lead to the expansion of crops for biofuels onto land wrongly labelled as ‘unused’ or ‘marginal’.

Meanwhile, the WWF heavily criticised the committee for voting in favour of continued subsidies for burning trees and stumps for energy, labelling the practice “completely counterproductive as a way of tackling climate change.”

The first Renewable Energy Directive set a 20% target for 2020, back in 2009, with individual targets for each EU country. The European Commission proposed to prolong the scheme until 2030, raising the target to at least 27%, albeit as an EU-wide target. MEPs propose to reintroduce mandatory national targets to reach an EU 35% goal.