Phasing out fossil fuels in the transport sector and other aspects of life is no longer just a climate change issue. The war in Ukraine has emphasized the urgency in reducing the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels. That’s where sustainable biofuels from crops, wastes and residues come into the picture.
POLITICO Studio talked to Kristell Guizouarn, the president of the European Biodiesel Board (EBB), a non-profit organization bringing together EU producers of biodiesel from all feedstocks. She spoke about the Fit for 55 package and how sustainable biodiesel can help to decarbonize Europe’s energy and transport sectors.
Q. EU countries have a huge challenge ahead of them: phasing out fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 90 percent by 2050. How can biodiesel help the EU to achieve that goal?
A. Transport is a complex sector, requiring a wide range of solutions to move away from fossil fuels. Switching to electric vehicles will not be enough to reach the 2030 climate goals, and road transport electrification will not happen overnight, with today’s buses, trucks, and cars set to remain on the road for years.
Sustainable biodiesel is one of the solutions already helping lower emissions from transport significantly. Every ton of biodiesel replacing fossil fuel saves over three tons of direct CO2 emissions. It can be blended with fossil diesel, or fully replace it, without needing to change existing infrastructure or engines. And, in addition to road transport, it is also a solution for maritime and aviation.
Q. In addition to the decarbonization of transport, what are some of the key benefits of biodiesel?
A. Biodiesel plays a big role in generating both fuel and food. For example, over 9 million tons of rapeseed — around 40 percent of the biodiesel produced in the EU — are used for the production of biodiesel, while the high-protein byproduct is available to farmers as animal feed. So, it’s a big win-win that helps the EU meet its climate goals and offset the need for imports of animal feed, while providing additional revenue to farmers growing the crops.
Another big advantage is that trash does not have to be wasted. Waste and recycling companies deliver used cooking oil and animal fats generated by consumers or industrial processes to modern biodiesel refineries — supporting the EU’s circular economy and reducing emissions.
And then there’s glycerin, bio-naphtha, lecithin, bio-LPG, and several biochemicals, all byproducts from refineries to replace fossil fuel-based chemicals in everyday products such as cosmetics, food and polymers.
Q. Russia’s invasion in Ukraine has highlighted the urgent need to displace fossil fuels. What has been the impact of the war on the biodiesel industry in the EU?
A. The war in Ukraine has disrupted the supply of certain commodities such as sunflower and corn, and has generated a high volatility on the market, as well as higher energy prices. That has resulted in some critics saying that the EU’s demand for ethanol and biodiesel exacerbates food security concerns. But biodiesel production does not reduce the availability of food. It’s the opposite: biodiesel production only uses the excess fats that cannot be consumed as food. So, by cultivating more biodiesel crops we add more protein to the food supply. We would not have this much European rapeseed if the biodiesel market did not exist.
Moreover, any national measures aiming at lowering fuel prices by reducing biofuels’ incorporation mandates would not achieve their desired impact. Instead, they would cause serious damage to the European agriculture sector, as well as food supply, protein and energy independence, also jeopardizing our fight against climate change.
Q. The European Commission has put forward a revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED) as part of the Fit for 55 package. What would you like to see in the final text?
A. The overall renewables targets should be the highest possible for the EU to achieve its Green Deal goals. That’s why we support increasing the greenhouse gas intensity reduction target in the transport sector from 13 percent to at least 16 percent by 2030.
To meet increased decarbonization targets — and, in return, the growing market demand for biodiesel — it’s key to couple specific incentives for sectors that are difficult to decarbonize, such as heavy-duty vehicles, aviation and maritime, with stable and long-term regulatory support for all sustainable feedstocks.
The Commission proposal upholds the 7 percent limit on how much crop-based biofuel can be used in the transport sector and counted toward the renewable energy goals of EU countries. It is vital to at least maintain this level. That’s why it is concerning to see some MEPs and stakeholders pushing to reduce the share of crop-based biofuels.
Q. What other policies in the Fit for 55 package could help industries boost the use of sustainable biofuels like biodiesel?
A. First and foremost, it’s important to have a coherent EU policy framework for all transport modes abiding by a single set of sustainability criteria. The proposed definition of sustainable aviation fuels in the ReFuelEU Aviation regulation should be changed to include all sustainable biodiesel including crop-based, to align with the RED. In the same vein, the FuelEU Maritime regulation should be harmonized with the RED rules.
We also think that higher levels of biodiesel blending — such as B10, B100 and HVO100 — should be further incentivized for road transport, in particular for heavy-duty vehicles. Those high-level biodiesel blends are at the moment used less due to a lack of regulatory incentives and pricing, even though an uptick of biodiesel means a further shift away from fossil fuels.
Finally, EU CO2 standards for vehicles only account for tailpipe emissions, which is called ‘tank-to-wheel’. This approach favors electric cars and fails to incentivize biofuels with a lower greenhouse gas emissions footprint. That is why we propose to move toward a ‘well-to-wheel’ approach that accounts for the entire cycle. For cars, we see that the ‘tank-to-wheel’ approach is prevailing. But we hope that EU regulators will adopt a more inclusive approach for the upcoming regulation on heavy-duty vehicles.
Q. How do you see the use of biodiesel evolving over the coming decades?
A. We expect a sharp increase in the demand for renewable fuels. The revised RED, FuelEU Maritime and ReFuelEU Aviation mandates are projected to more than double the demand for renewable liquid fuels by 2030. Biodiesel will be crucial to respond to this increasing demand — especially for those transport modes where electrification is not a feasible option.