EU blow to biodiesel

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An EU policy U-turn was announced earlier this month, with draft legislation to impose limits across Europe on land-use for fuel crop production. Climate change Comissioner, Connie Hedegaard, proposes to cap land-use in Europe for biofuel production at 5% (currently 4.5%) and end subsidies for biomass production by 2020.

EU policy has previously supported a multi-billion euro biofuel industry, in order to reach a target of 10% renewable transport fuels by 2020. The withdrawal of backing for biofuels results from concerns about indirect land use change (iLUC). A study by Chris Malins of the the International Council on Clean Transportation illustrates how biofuel crop production in Europe, has knock-on effects on the amount of land needed globally for agriculture. The release of carbon from clearing or draining new land for food, negates or could even exceed the carbon saved in using biofuel.

The draft law includes emissions values for the iLUC resulting from three biofuel crop types: cereals, sugars and oilseeds. The cost of growing fuel biomass, in the currency of indirectly produced carbon, is greatest for biodiesel crops and much lower for ethanol. This is expected to result in an investment swing in favor of second generation fuel technology. Today, Dutch Shell plc announced that for this investment to happen, businesses will need new incentives.

The EU announcement proposes to address the shortfall in sustainable fuels by making biofuels from household waste (and algae). However, households in developed countries such as the UK throw away millions of tonnes of food each year (that could have been eaten) at the same time as obesity rates in Europe have been soaring. This would suggest a pressing scope, in Europe at least, for reduced food consumption and a direct reduction in land-use pressure.