Production, imports up as Europe increases ethanol requirements

By Ryan C. Christiansen | May 04, 2009
The European Union Council of Ministers adopted a European Commission legislative package in April that increases the amount of ethanol to be blended with petroleum gasoline in the EU, establishes sustainability criteria for the fuel, and requires petroleum fuel suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for their fuel. The EU plans to increase the share of renewable energy it consumes in the transport sector to 10 percent by 2020. The measures were first proposed by the Commission in January 2008 and were amended by the European Parliament in December. EU member states must now adopt national plans by June 2010 and enact national laws by the end of that year.

For ethanol to be counted in the mandate, the fuel must meet sustainability criteria relating to biodiversity, the protection of species and ecosystems, and GHG emission savings, beginning in 2011. Petroleum suppliers are required to decrease GHG emissions over the entire lifecycles of their fuels by 6 percent by 2020, which can be achieved by blending ethanol. Beginning in 2011, fueling stations can begin offering E10, but E5 must remain available until 2013 for use in older vehicles.

The push for more ethanol comes at a time when European production and imports are increasing. Plants in Europe produced 56 percent more ethanol in 2008 than in 2007, a steep increase over the 11 percent boost the industry experienced in 2007 compared to 2006, according to the European Bioethanol Fuel Association (eBIO). EU producers made 2.8 billion liters (740 MMgy) of ethanol in 2008, up from 1.8 billion liters (476 MMgy) in 2007. The increase is due in large part to growth in French production, which nearly doubled in 2008 to 1 billion liters (264 MMgy), up from 539 million liters (142 MMgy) in 2007. Meanwhile, Germany expanded its output by more than 32 percent to 569 million liters (150 MMgy). Spain was the third-largest producer with 317 million liters (84 MMgy). The increase occurred despite declining production in some producing member states. Belgium produced its first ethanol in 2008 while Austria completed its first full year of production. Finland resumed production last year.

Europe increased its imports of ethanol by an estimated 400 million liters (106 million gallons) in 2008 to an estimated 1.9 billion liters (502 million gallons), with most of the ethanol (between 1.4 and 1.5 billion liters, or between 370 and 396 million gallons) coming from Brazil.

Increased production and imports of ethanol and biodiesel are a priority for the EU, according to Andris Piebalgs, a member of the European Commission responsible for Energy. Piebalgs addressed the 1st European Bioethanol Fuel Conference, sponsored by eBIO, in April.

"Transport [in the EU] depends on oil for 98 percent of its fuel," said Piebalgs. "That degree of dependence would be a worry, whatever the fuel. It is of double concern given that the fuel in question is oil.

"We need to pursue many solutions to this problem; but today, biofuels are just about the only large-scale option currently available to diversify fuel sources in the transport sector," Piebalgs said.

In Germany, Vereinigte BioEnergie AG reported that for 2008, its ethanol plants produced 270,000 metric tons running at 51.3 percent capacity. The company's ethanol export business declined 9.8 percent to 19,400 metric tons compared to 2007.

U.K.-based Pursuit Dynamics PLC reported in March that it remains confident that its strategy of focusing on the renewable fuels market will produce the best results for the company. During the first quarter of 2009, the company installed its PDX Ethanol Reactor Tower technology at the 40 MMgy Iroquois Bio-Energy Company LLC ethanol plant in Rensselaer, Ind. Also this year, Pursuit Dynamics shifted its research and development focus to improving pretreatment processes for cellulosic ethanol feedstocks.