EU wants more renewable energy but bans biofuels in cars
On Thursday the EU decided that from 2023 onward, the share of palm oil in biofuels should go down. From 2030 palm oil should no longer be found in European car tanks at all. This decision does not go as far as the European Parliament’s original proposal, which was to bring palm oil as a fuel to zero as early as 2021.
Less or more?
This might become hard to implement because on Wednesday night, the European Parliament and representatives of the 28 Member States reached an agreement on a compromise revising the Renewable Energy Directive. These will finally have to reach 32% of our consumption within twelve years, with a possible upward review clause in 2023. “This is the first time that the share of renewable energies has increased since the Paris’ agreement,” says Neil Makaroff, head of European policy at the Climate Action Network.
Not green at all
Once it was thought that biofuels would drag us through the energy transition. Indeed, by 2020, all the member states of the European Union had to ensure that 10% of their transport fuel was biofuel. Despite their environmentally sounding name, the image of biofuel is no longer that green at all. This is especially true for palm oil, which in Europe is used half as biofuel and is further found in food and cosmetics. In principle biofuel is climate-neutral. While growing plants, such as oil palms, are using water, CO2 and sunlight by means of photosynthesis, the combustion of this material releases the CO2 that was previously extracted from the air.
In order to grow crops, land – that might be used for agriculture or housing – is needed. That’s why in many places land is gained by cutting down rain forests. A large part of the palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia, but also other biofuels are under discussion. Similar practices are taking place in Brazil, where sugar cane is grown for the production of organic farming. Biofuels made from rapeseed or green algae might be a solution as they can be used easily in most (diesel) engines.
Second generation biofuel might become a solution
In France there has been a fairly violent reaction by farmer organizations after the opening of the Total bio-refinery in La Mède (Bouches-du-Rhône) last September. The two major (bio)fuel groups, Total and Avril, are waiting cautiously. Total says that “La Mède has been specifically designed to treat all types of oils”. All first-generation biofuels – including rapeseed and sunflower – will have their use capped from 2020. “The European Union is sending a signal to promote second generation fuels and green electricity”, explains Laura Buffet of the NGO Transport and Environment. By 2030, European countries will have to use up to 7% of fuels based on agricultural waste or renewable electricity.