Advanced biofuels for aviation set to benefit under proposals to revise EU policy on transport fuels
Fri 2 Dec 2016 – Revisions to the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) could see preferential rules applying to advanced aviation and marine fuels to support their deployment in the sectors. Despite significant growth of renewable fuels since 2009, fossil-based oil supplies 94% of all energy used for cars, trucks, ships and planes, says the European Commission in its extensive “winter package” released this week of policy proposals to improve the bloc’s energy efficiency and meet 2030 climate targets. Further development of advanced alternative fuels will therefore be required and the revised RED aims to introduce an obligation on European transport fuel suppliers to provide an increasing share of advanced biofuels, while at the same time decreasing the use of first generation, food-based biofuels. IATA welcomed the Commission’s proposals and urged policy-makers to go further and prioritise the use of sustainable fuels in air transport.
The Commission’s new framework sets out a target of at least 27% for the share of renewable energy consumed in the EU in 2030. The target is binding and will be fulfilled through a collective delivery of individual Member States’ contributions and allows for more ambitious national targets. Without new policies to promote the deployment of renewables, the Commission believes the current projection of 24.3% of renewable energy consumption will prevent the EU from delivering on commitments made under the Paris Agreement.
However, regulatory uncertainty caused by lengthy political discussions on how to address the risk of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) associated with food-based biofuels has had a negative impact in the deployment of renewables in the transport sector, finds the Commission. Policy-makers have now concluded ILUC impacts are higher than first thought and it is now proposed to introduce a cap on the contribution of food-based biofuels towards the renewable energy target, starting at 7% in 2021 and going down progressively to 3.8% in 2030.
To offset this, the RED revision proposes to introduce an obligation on transport fuel suppliers to provide an increasing share of renewable and low-carbon fuels, including advanced biofuels, non-biological renewable fuels (such as hydrogen), waste-based fuels and renewable electricity. The proposed level of this obligation is to progressively increase from 1.5% in 2021 (in energy terms) to 6.8% in 2030, including at least 3.6% of advanced biofuels. In order to give preference to their deployment, the contribution of fuels supplied in the aviation and maritime sectors are to be considered 1.2 times their energy content.
Further stipulations are that from 2021 advanced biofuels should emit at least 70% fewer GHG emissions than fossil fuel alternatives and a new sustainability criterion on forest biomass used for biofuel production be introduced. The proposals also include the setting up of national databases to ensure traceability of biofuels and mitigate the risk of fraud.
As it has no technological option but to continue with liquid fuels for the time being, unlike road transport, there is a strong case for sustainable fuel policies to prioritise air transport so as to boost supply and reduce costs, said IATA in a response to the Commission’s plans.
“Sustainable fuels are an essential element of our carbon-cutting strategy, with the prospect of an 80% decrease in carbon compared to traditional jet fuel. Policies to incentivise the production of such fuels have been successful in the United States and elsewhere. Europe has an opportunity to take the lead in sustainable fuel production if the revised RED contains the right measures,” said Michael Gill, IATA’s Director, Aviation Environment.
“Airlines are absolutely committed to the highest sustainability standards for alternative fuels, to ensure no interference with biodiversity, food production or clean water resources. We are ready and willing to invest in these fuels and the revision of the RED offers a unique opportunity for Europe to demonstrate what can be achieved when policy-makers and industry combine for a genuinely coordinated approach to climate action and business innovation.”
The RED proposals were also welcomed by the Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels (LSB), a group formed in 2012 of companies, including British Airways, committed to developing and investing in advanced biofuels.
“We believe that by recognising the role of advanced biofuels as a fast track option for the decarbonisation of the EU transport sector, the European Commission has made a significant step to enhance the EU innovation capacity and stimulate green growth,” it said in a statement.
“LSB particularly welcomes the establishment of a binding target for advanced biofuels, which is indispensable for creating a stable and predictable business environment and trigger new substantial investments in advanced biofuels production capacity. In this context the Commission proposal sets the right direction and framework for the advanced biofuels industry to move forward and fully unleash the potential of advanced biofuels in Europe.”
Finland-based Neste, which has already produced sustainable aviation biofuels for the sector, said in a press release that from its perspective, the Commission’s proposal would secure the necessary predictability for producers to continue long-term planning of their operations and investments.
“What Neste considers a particularly good thing is that for the first time, the blending mandate regarding biofuels could also be met with renewable solutions used within the aviation and marine sectors,” said the company. “Neste already has full capability to support sustainable and carbon-neutral growth within these industries with our renewable fuel solutions.”
Added Kaisa Hietala, EVP of Neste’s Renewable Products business area: “As a whole, the Commission’s proposal consists of good propositions that support biofuels use and development in Europe. Neste wants to continue the discussions on enabling the industry to use as wide a raw material portfolio as possible. This is likely to be brought up in further work on the proposal.”
The proposed revisions to RED require approval by the European Parliament and the Council, which represents Member States, and is unlikely to be adopted before 2018.
Earlier this week, the UK government also announced proposals to incentivise the use of sustainable aviation fuels through its Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (see article).