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A Greener Deal in Europe with ethanol in the energy mix – UNICA

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has left no doubt; the European Green Deal is to become the legacy of the 2019 - 2024 European Commission. The ambition is clear and decisive: to decarbonise Europe. New targets see at least 50 percent of emissions cut by 2030 and carbon neutrality achieved by 2050. Ethanol, which holds the expeditious potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and diversify energy supplies, must not be left out of the energy mix says UNICA.

A new study finds that increased ethanol blends in petrol would have a positive effect on vehicle emissions and air quality.
According to the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA), ethanol, which holds the expeditious potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and diversify energy supplies, must not be left out of the European Green Deal energy mix.

According to the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA), ethanol can produce up to 90 percent reduction in lifecycle emissions than conventional fossil fuels and stands to play a critical role in reaching Europe’s targets. This will be a real test for the new Commission and ambitions might be frustrated should the recently presented European Green Deal not include the full spectrum of all available technologies, including sugarcane ethanol.

The European Green Deal will redefine the landscape in which all policies are developed, not least those focusing on health, energy, transport, environment, and agriculture. This is set to be a Just Transition, one that transforms and benefits all aspects of European society.

  • Health: The Green Deal explicitly links citizens’ health with environmental health. Improving air quality is an easy example of ethanol’s versatility. How? Blending petrol with higher levels of ethanol such as E20 adds oxygen to the gasoline and reduces particulate matter from the tailpipe exhaust, providing cleaner air and better quality of life for Europeans.
  • Energy: The implementation of the Clean Energy Package is a short-term priority for the European Commission and Member States. Kadri Simson, the new Energy Commissioner, will be tasked to evaluate existing legislation and decide whether it is up to the standard required to meet more ambitious climate targets. A possible review of the renewable energy directive and renewable targets in the transport sector could again see ethanol play a more prominent role; rolling out an E10 baseline across the EU would already reduce road transport emissions by up 15 million tonnes in full compatibility with most existing vehicles on the road today.
  • Transport: One of the priorities of the Green Deal is the decarbonisation of the transport sector. It is mentioned as a specific initiative and priority. As the Emissions Trading System will be extended to the maritime and aviation sectors and the European Commission might again revise the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions performance legislation for cars, Europe will need to increase the uptake of sustainable and alternative transport fuels. Flex-fuel vehicles, already 74 percent of the entire light vehicle fleet in Brazil, can run on either gasoline or pure ethanol further reducing emissions. With the introduction of new Hybrid Fuel Flex options, which also include an electrical powertrain, the potential to cut emissions is only increasing.
  • Environment: The Commissioner for Environment, Virginijus Sinkevicius will lead the zero-pollution ambition which will require a cross-sectoral approach. Where ethanol replaces fossil fuels it leads to a significant reduction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) emissions. In addition, ethanol is also widely used as a solvent and is increasingly being used as a renewable alternative to fossil-based chemicals in products stimulating the uptake of bioplastics.
  • Agriculture: Agriculture Commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski will contribute to the zero-pollution ambition and ensure that agriculture and food production contribute to our climate, environmental and biodiversity goals. In Brazil, ethanol production occupies only 1.4 percent of arable land and largely contributes to the reforestation goals set out by the Paris Agreement. As of January 2020, Brazil’s RenovaBio programme will further incentivize low-carbon ethanol through tradeable carbon credits whilst guaranteeing a deforestation-free supply chain. These are examples of how agricultural policy can play its role in meeting decarbonization targets.

Europe’s Green Deal is not just about ambitions, it is also aspirational. Europe wants to be a leader in climate action and to do so it will need to use all the solutions available to accelerate this transition. Biofuels are already playing a critical role in many countries, and as Member States roll-out higher blends of renewables in standard petrol, ethanol can make Europe’s climate deal greener.

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