Biofuels Not Up To European Standards According to Recent Study

on Aug 20, 2012
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Gernot Pehnelt and Christoph Vietze, two economic experts at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, claim to have found evidence that EU-produced rapeseed biodiesel does not fulfil the sustainability requirements of the European Union. The report comes in contradiction to the European Commission’s studies on the fuel, according to which rapeseed oil delivers greenhouse cuts of about 38 per cent compared with conventional fuels and is eligible for blending in biodiesels. The particular rapeseed oil, also known as canola oil, makes up a little more than 80 per cent of all vegetable oils used in European biofuels.

The economists looked at the greenhouse-gas savings of rapeseed fuel in a number of different situations and took into account factors such as variations in fertilizer application and soil quality during crop production as well as different efficiencies in fuel production. While the European Commission’s estimations have shown 38 per cent greenhouse-gas cuts, the two scientists, using a very similar model, have calculated a 29.7 per cent saving from rapeseed. The numbers from the study are below standards and will be even more so after 2017, when Europe’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) has scheduled an increase in the required greenhouse-gas savings. In five years, emissions from biofuels will have to be 50 per cent lower than those from fossil fuels.

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!m[](/uploads/story/275/thumbs/pic1_inline.png)”Our results indicate that the ‘sustainability’ of rapeseed biodiesel in the interpretation of the [EU’s]renewable energy directive is at best questionable and in most scenarios simply unjustifiable,” said Gernort Pehnelt.
The commission did not recognize the study as a viable criticism of the standard means for calculating biofuel’s carbon fotprint and claimed that the authors’ remarks are leaning more towards provocation than factuality. “Different studies can come to different results, depending on the assumptions used. The figures used as default values by the Commission are the result of a comprehensive process including input from world leading experts, where all input data and assumptions are freely available.” was what the EU commission had to say for Nature.

The UN and many others have criticised biofuels for pushing up global food prices. With one of the most severe droughts in the US in half a century, it seems criticism is indeed appropriate. This year’s corn yield is expected to be the lowest for 17 years, which has already pushed grain prices up. Demand for wheat with the purpose of feeding the animal stock has also increased as a result with it being used instead of expensive corn. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization called for suspension of US ethanol quotas as an urgent response against the drought’s impact on soft commodity prices. Brussels is faced with the tremendous challenge of coming up with the investment and technology needed to create a new feedstock for biodiesel, such as weeds and waste stems, with a view to relieving the pressure on grain supplies for food.

“This does not mean that biofuel should be scrapped entirely but that producers should use other organic materials,” Peter Brabeck, chairman of Nestlé, told the Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung. “Our problem is that almost half of US corn production and 60% of European rape is being used for fuel production,” According to Brabeck, food prices are very prone to swings and are starting to increasingly correlate with oil prices.
A full review by the European Commission will be published in 2014, containing an updated assessment of the land-use changes, both direct and indirect, that result from the biofuel policies. A legislative proposal to address those changes will follow “as soon as possible” according to the commission’s statements.

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