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Europe needs to unleash the full power of biofuels

The consumption of biofuels in the EU27 has grown constantly over the last decade with sustainable biofuels accounting for 89 percent of renewable energy in transport, the latest EUROSTAT data finds. Despite this growth, the sector remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels, mainly because of policies that hinder the use of biofuels according to a new Bioenergy Europe report published in collaboration with the European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE) and the European Biodiesel Board (EBB).

Despite biofuels growth, the EU27 transport sector is still heavily dominated by fossil fuels – casting doubt on the real impact of the existing renewable energy policy framework and political commitment to decarbonizing the transport sector. In 2019, oil represented 92 percent of the final energy consumption in transport while low-emission and renewable solutions still accounted for a very marginal portion – 6.81 percent. Multipliers, a statistical methodology used to encourage the uptake of renewable energy in transport, primarily favours electric vehicles, are creating virtual energy, increasing the real share of fossil fuels according to a new Bioenergy Europe report (graphic courtesy Bioenergy Europe).

For the third time since its launch in 2007, the 2021 Statistical Report published by Bioenergy Europe (previously known as AEBIOM) is being split into different publications, each one covering a different aspect of bioenergy.

Bioenergy Europe has, in collaboration with the European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE) and the European Biodiesel Board (EBB), released Biofuels for Transport Statistical Report 2021, the third chapter of its 2021 Statistical Report focusing on biofuels for the transportation sector.

Released on July 22, 2021, the Biofuels for Transport Statistical Report 2021 report provides readers with accurate, up-to-date data on the current state of play of biofuel consumption, production – looking at different feedstocks including a database with all the facilities for the production of advanced liquid and gaseous biofuels for transport. The accompanying Policy Brief puts forward key highlights from the report, as well as recommendations from the sector.

The report highlights that the equation is simple: to deliver on EU Green Deal net-zero objectives, bold and forward-looking policy frameworks are crucial. Current data cast doubt on the real impact of the existing renewable energy policy framework and political commitment to decarbonizing the transport sector.

To deliver on the European Green Deal climate objectives, a single, long-term and coherent framework for sustainable feedstocks is key: what is sustainable on the road, should be sustainable for aviation and bunker fuels. In addition, the tailpipe approach for CO2 emissions in road transport is a non-sense that does not allow to consider the biogenic carbon-neutral fuels and jeopardizes the possibility for biofuels like sustainable biodiesel to increase their contribution alongside electrification and other technologies. We need all renewable energy sources to be fit for 55, said Xavier Noyon, Secretary-General at EBB.

Tools and targets are already in place. The European Commission’s Climate Target plan suggests that by 2030, renewables in the transport sector must increase to approximately 24 percent through further development of renewable solutions including advanced biofuels.

The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) offers the opportunity to set new and more ambitious targets that will speed up the uptake of biofuels. The Fit-for-55 packages provide a unique chance to accelerate the penetration of biofuels in the transport sector and foster system integration.

Efforts should focus on decarbonizing both the energy supply and demand by phasing out fossil fuels. Only through a rapid shift to low-emission mobility EU Green Deal’s ambitious net-zero goals can be effectively reached. Biofuels –the largest renewable energy source in transport – will continue to be a concrete and viable solution to reducing road, aviation, and waterborne transport emissions, said Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary-General at Bioenergy Europe.

The three trade bodies stress the importance that this opportunity is not wasted by prioritizing some solutions at the expense of others. In order to transform the transport sector, a combination of biofuels, renewable electricity, and other low-carbon solutions will be needed to curb the current high level of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The EU cannot afford to simply wait for new technologies to develop when it has existing and proven solutions that can make an immediate impact on reducing transport emissions. Biofuels not only contribute to the much-needed decarbonization of both the energy supply and demand but are also an integral part of a vibrant European circular economy.

Refineries maximize the sustainable use of land and waste materials and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. In 2020, with the unprecedented coronavirus (COVID19) health crisis, several EU-based ethanol producers were even able to promptly switch production from biofuels to disinfectant production when Europe needed it most.

This flexibility played a key role in overcoming the shortages witnessed in the EU and expanding the sector will be essential to creating a more resilient Europe for the future.

The lesson from these numbers is clear: biofuels such as renewable ethanol have been the main driver in replacing fossil fuels in EU transport – but it hasn’t been enough. The potential contribution of sustainable biofuels to the fight against climate change has been minimized and hamstrung by policies that limit their use and instead artificially inflate the contribution of other renewables with multipliers. For Europe to achieve its Green Deal goals, it needs to unleash the power of EU ethanol, said Emmanuel Desplechin, Secretary General at ePURE.

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