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18th Feb 2018

EU tries to reduce share of 'food-wasting' biofuels

The European Commission is proposing to further cut the share of traditional types of biofuels, discredited due to harmful effects on food prices, the environment and climate change.

“We should gradually phase out first-generation of food-wasting biofuels,” energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic told journalists on Tuesday (29 November), a day ahead of presenting a “mega-package” of energy-related measures.

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The European Union embraced biofuels, as an alternative to petrol and diesel, in 2003.

However, in recent years biofuels made from food crops have been linked to food price rises and in some cases to greater global warming contributions than fossil fuels they replaced.

Last year, European legislators adopted legislation aimed at steering investors towards biofuels whose production did not compete with food production, by setting a new, more refined, target.

Biofuels in Europe come in two categories: traditional or first-generation, and advanced or second-generation.

In 2003, member states agreed that by 2020, 10 percent of all of the transport fuel used in the EU, should be biofuels.

According to 2014 figures from Eurostat, on average only 5.9 percent of transport fuel was from a renewable energy source – which includes not only biofuels, but also hydrogen and 'green' electricity.

In the United States, that figure was already 7.1 percent in 2012.

The original 2020 target still stands, but only 7 percent of all transport fuels may be first-generation biofuels.

The commission now wants to further promote second-generation biofuels with a new 2030 target.

“We are proposing that the food-based biofuels should be gradually phased out in a way that by 2030 they should not represent more than 3.8 percent,” said Sefcovic.

Advanced biofuels should represent 6.8 percent by 2030.

Sefcovic said: “we did a very thorough impact assessment and we tested different scenarios. This was the result which was the most optimal, based on the current situation, and expectation of technological developments.”

But the target must gain support from the European Parliament and member states.

National governments particularly may be reluctant to adopt another target so soon after the previous one, given their sensitivity to pleas from Europe's relatively young biofuels industry, which made considerable investments in first-generation biofuels.

Industry feels 'betrayed'

A Brussels-based biofuels lobby group has responded with outrage to the commission's proposal.

"The biofuel sector feel betrayed by the commission because of its complete disregard for the investments made in good faith on the basis of EU policy," said the European renewable ethanol association in an e-mailed statement.

The Transport & Environment lobby group meanwhile said the phase-out of food-based biofuels was not going fast enough.

The environmentalist group blamed the commission for "backtracking on its commitment to promote the electrification of transport".

MEPs approve plan to put cap on older biofuels

The European Parliament's environment committee Tuesday approved a plan to try and steer investors away from traditional types of biofuels that have had negative side-effects on food prices, environment and climate change.

Focus

MEPs agree cap on crop-based biofuels

The EU parliament has capped the amount of crop-based biofuels that can be used to reach EU energy targets amid environmental fears.

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The EU also agreed on financing a study into the Southern Gas Corridor, to send a signal that the EU is still invested in the project - but leaves questions over renewable energy sources.

Austria sues Commission over Hungary's nuclear plant

Anti-nuclear Austria takes the EU Commission to court over Hungary's controversial Paks II nuclear plant, financed and built by Russia. But it is the Euratom treaty itself that could be on trial.

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