EU cannot ignore ethanol’s high GHG savings

At COP21 last year, the EU committed to cutting its total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. As part of its climate and energy plans, This column appears in the September 2016 issue of Ethanol Producer Magazine.
By Robert Wright | August 17, 2016

At COP21 last year, the EU committed to cutting its total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030. As part of its climate and energy plans, the EU also has set an objective to achieve at least 27 percent renewable energy use by 2030. The European Commission already has signaled that these ambitious objectives will require substantial 12 to 20 percent GHG emission reductions and 12 to 14 percent renewable sources in transport.

Decarbonizing Europe’s transport sector is vital because it accounts for 25 percent of Europe’s total GHG emissions, recently becoming the largest source. With combustion engines expected to dominate still in 2030, increasing the use of ethanol blends is the most immediate and cost-effective solution to achieve these objectives.

But, without a binding policy framework that promotes low carbon fuel replacements for petrol and diesel fuels used in Europe, the needed emissions reduction in transport simply will not be achieved. This is confirmed by a recent study by E4Tech that found the absence of a binding policy to decarbonize traditional transport fuels will lead to increased use of fossil fuels in transport, completely undermining Europe’s 2030 climate strategy.

This is why ePURE is calling for the Fuel Quality Directive to be strengthened by introducing an ambitious and binding target to reduce the carbon intensity of transport fuels by at least 12 percent by 2030 compared to a 2010 baseline, with at least a quarter coming from advanced biofuels. Reducing the emissions of traditional transport fuels through low-carbon fuel alternatives is vital because other options, such as electric vehicles, simply will not grow fast enough to make the needed emissions reduction in time.

The European Commission published its long-awaited Communication on a European Strategy for Low-Emission Mobility that explores potential policy options on July 20. The EC proposal to increase the deployment of advanced biofuels is welcome news, but the commission must ensure that demand growth in advanced biofuels comes in addition to, not at the expense of, existing conventional ethanol production.

Any plan to phase out conventional ethanol is simply not justified, even by the commission’s own research, and would damage investor confidence and hinder the deployment of advanced ethanol. The commission really should prioritize the phasing out of oil use in transport, which is responsible for 95 percent of all energy used in the sector. The science shows that some conventional biofuels are better than others for the climate and instead of seeking to phase out all conventional biofuels, the commission should support only those biofuels that actually reduce emissions. Conventional ethanol produced in Europe has 63 percent GHG savings compared to petrol, has low, land-use impact (LUC) and no negative effect on food prices. It is the type of good biofuel that Europe should support.

The commission should examine the implications of its proposed policy orientations through a proper and fully objective impact assessment, based on the latest available science and its correct reading. Such an impact assessment should consider objectively all low-carbon fuel options. A science-led approach will show that renewable ethanol, both conventional and advanced, is an essential part of Europe’s climate tool kit and the phasing out of conventional ethanol would harm the EU’s overall climate ambitions.

Since the revised biofuels policy framework was adopted, many anti-ethanol myths have been debunked and there has been mounting evidence of the sustainability and climate benefits of ethanol. It has been proven that increased ethanol demand in Europe does not alter food prices or undermine food security. The recent GLOBIOM, commissioned by the European Commission, also confirmed that ethanol has high net GHG savings and low risk of adverse LUC impacts.

According to a recent study by Ricardo Energy and Environment, the higher use of ethanol in Europe could contribute to a 14.1 percent GHG emission reduction in European transport, even after possible LUC emissions have been taken into account. European transport policy simply cannot afford to miss out on ethanol’s significant climate contribution.

All options that significantly and sustainably reduce emissions from the current vehicle fleet must be kept on the table. Member states already expressed their need for flexibility to meet future targets, so no low-carbon option, including ethanol, should be excluded or limited from contributing to the EU 2030 objectives.


Author: Robert Wright
Secretary General,
ePURE, the European Renewable Ethanol Association
wright@epure.org