Q&A: Biodiesel Basics

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The transport sector is one of the most fossil fuel dependent sectors accounting for one third of total greenhouse gas emissions in Europe. This figure is projected to grow in the coming years, and yet, it is unclear where a solution will come from. To explore what contribution biodiesels will have, we spoke to Raffaello Garofalo, the Secretary General of the European Biodiesel Board.

Source: EBB

Source: EBB

Will biodiesel reduce our dependency on fossil fuels?

Biofuels are the only sustainable and immediately commercially available alternative to fossil fuels and is currently the most viable European solution to reduce emissions from diesel transportation in the EU. The largest part of fuel consumption in Europe is diesel: in some countries like France, Italy or Belgium cars purchased in the last 12 months are in ¾ of cases fuelled by diesel. Biodiesel is the only renewable fuel that can be used for decarbonizing goods transportation (lorries) and in Aviation and Maritime application (both diesel kind of fuels).

Biodiesel can save in most cases 50% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In some cases when advanced biodiesel is taken into consideration, it can save even up to higher percentages when compared to fossil fuels equivalent.

Europe is the worldwide leader in biodiesel production. The largest part of biodiesel is made in Europe. Its production in the EU is done on certified land where no land use was changed for its production (since the EU agricultural surfaces are subject to strict sustainability criteria).

What role does biofuel have in the energy transition?

Biofuels and biodiesel have a crucial role to play improving the future transport energy supply of Europe. For instance, the 10 million tonnes of biodiesel produced annually partially cover the 30-40 million tonnes of EU diesel deficit – most of which (20 million tonnes annually) is imported from Russia. The role of biodiesel is potentially very important, however the lack of a stable legislative frame in the long term may hamper its further development. Reliable targets and support schemes for the period 2020-30 are needed in order to support the will of investors to continue developing this sector.

Specific targets for 2020-2030 would restore investors’ confidence and support the deployment of a sustainable and advanced alternative to diesel. Biofuels are the only sector abiding by strict sustainability criteria. Should the current framework be abandoned in the long term, it would simply erase the efforts made by the industry so far.

The transport sector is the only part of EU economy where GHG emissions continue to increase every year (particularly on good transport and diesel) and – beyond engine efficiency and very marginal electrification – biodiesel is so far the only possible answer in order to promote EU transport de-carbonization.

How has the ILUC (Indirect Land Use Challenges) debate affected biodiesel production?

Following hasty ILUC debates, the European biodiesel production level stagnated and even decreased in the last few years due political uncertainly as well as economic recession: this has impacted negatively on investments. Recently, a compromise was reached on the ILUC file – where all the lack of consistency of ILUC science and doubts surrounding its implementation where clearly made part of the legislation. The debate on biofuels and biodiesel support is now entering in a new area where pragmatic considerations and facts will need to be the center of all future policies.

As highlighted above, biodiesel represents a real asset to decarbonize EU transport, ensure independence of diesel fuel supply to Europe, ensure that 220,000 linked to the biodiesel sector are kept and developed and finally that the EU protein deficit (proteins are a co-product of biodiesel) can be partially balanced.

How can biodiesel, and biofuels, address the environmental concerns regarding ILUC?

For energy and environment policies, the direct advantages linked to biodiesel need to be better considered and communicated also to the public opinion. In terms of agriculture it has been made clear that biodiesel is an opportunity and not a threat. Both policymakers and public opinion need to realize that crop diversification is highly beneficial for the soil and for limiting pest and disease risks. For EU farmers, biofuels policy can efficiently help support the enforcement of agricultural and rural development policies. Also biodiesel is a development opportunity also in third countries, since at the moment issues in less developed countries are mainly due to underutilization of land and bad agricultural management.

What is the future of European biodiesel?

The future of the EU biofuel industry mainly depends to the decision that the EU institutions will reach. This will give the necessary political certainty to maintain and increase growth in the sector. Discussions on post-2020 targets in the transport sector will play a key role in deciding the destiny of biofuel and in particular biodiesel. A factual debate has to be started on the most pragmatic and simple option to decarbonize the EU.

Renewable fuels targets and especially fuel GHG emission reduction for 2020 need to be continued and developed. This will need an open and democratic debate among all the stakeholders and EU authorities in the next months. In this frame the main perspectives need to be identified in order to secure and develop support for biodiesel in the forthcoming 10-15 years.

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