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European Commission’s €2 billion support of advanced biofuels questioned

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A controversial study is claiming that the European Commission has wasted around €2 billion in ‘failed’ advanced biofuel plants.

Conducted by Ethanol Europe Renewables (EERL), the operator of Europe’s ‘largest’ ethanol production facility - the Pannonia plant in Hungary, the research argues that “Less than 1% of announced advanced biofuel capacity has successfully materialised, a volume so small as to be irrelevant.”

This seemingly damning figure was reached by EERL analysts compiling data published by advanced ethanol biofuel plants over the past ten years.

In the study, Eric Sievers, Investment director at Ethanol Europe, writes: “Trial and error in advanced biofuels sector is a healthy process, and they will one day join conventional biofuels as a real climate policy option, but the 10 billion or so Euros handed out by Northern Hemisphere governments in the past two decades for ephemeral advanced biofuels has done little more than provide big fees for grant writers and bankruptcy lawyers.”

A representative of EERL emphasised to Biofuels International that the aim of the study was not so much about attacking advanced biofuels, as trying to show the European Commission has spent billions of dollars on failed projects which it pretends were a success.

 

Controversial

The timing of the study is significant, coming just weeks after the European Parliament decided on a 12% target for renewables in transport by 2030, including 3.6% for advanced biofuels.

For the authors of the new study, this is a mistake. “The Commission and the Parliament have neglected two common sense rules – failing to seek evidence of how something works in the real world and how much it will cost.”

Needless to say, the study has sent ripples through Europe’s biofuels industry. Responding to the EERL research, Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary general of the European renewable ethanol association ePURE, argues that Europe needs to do more to encourage advanced biofuels and the whole renewables sector: “It’s no surprise that development of advanced biofuels in Europe needs more support from lawmakers, considering how the policy uncertainty they’ve created in recent years has given investors reason to think twice.”

 

A different view

Desplechin pointed to other research which contains a far more positive outlook for advanced biofuels.

“But don’t look just at what one frustrated investor is saying. Look at real research from the International Energy Agency. In its recent Technology Roadmap, the IEA said the transport sector’s biofuels consumption must triple by 2030 in order for the world to meet the ‘2-degree scenario’ in the fight against climate change. It stressed that two-thirds of that increase should come from advanced biofuels and notably from cellulosic ethanol, and also points out that ‘conventional’ or first-generation biofuels also have an important contribution to make while the massive scale-up of advanced technology is under way.

“We agree with the IEA: Europe needs a long-term stable policy and regulatory framework that provides certainty about the market for an extended period (10 to 15 years). Then we will surely see the advanced biofuel development the EU must have in order to meet its climate promises.”

This article was written by Daryl Worthington, editor of Biofuels International