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Study: EU biodiesel goals might increase carbon emissions

The EU’s biofuel targets may have ended up increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions due to the use of “dirty” biodiesel, an EU analysis has found.

According the to a research by the Ecofys consultancy for the European Commission, palm oil biodiesel emits more than three times and soyabean oil-based diesel two times as much GHG as fossil diesel when their land use effect are accounted for.

The EU has set a goal of sourcing 10% of its transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, which the study says will foster crop cultivation on 6.7 million hectares of forests and grasslands.

When the loss of tress is added to the total GHG footprint, first generation biodiesel could end up generating nearly one billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent.

“We need to rapidly accelerate the phase-out of first generation biofuels,” director of the environmental thinktank Transport and Environment’s Jos Dings told The Guardian newspaper.

“Biodiesel is a big elephant in the room. It accounts for three quarters of the biofuel we use in the EU and this report pinpoints that its emissions are much worse than fossil fuels.”

According to the Ecofys study, EU’s decision to cap first generation biofuels’ share of total transport fuel use to 7% will save more 500 million tonnes to CO2, which is approximately as much as Europe’s cars emit in a year.

But T&E estimates that instead of slowing climate change, the EU biofuel goals could end up increasing GHG emissions by about 2 gigatonnes.

Credibility deficiency

The academic credibility of the Ecofys study, however, is being brought to question by several different parties, including the EU itself.

According to the European Biodiesel Board (EBB), the study is based on “a model which has still not been disclosed nor validated by peers”.

Raffaello Garofalo, secretary-general of EBB, said in a statement the organisation has reservations over the “academic value and scientific reliability” of the research.

“Following strong pressures and transparency doubts by many stakeholders, the [European] Commission was obliged to publish this new land use review without any model disclosure nor a peer-review having been performed,” Garofalo said.

“The results obtained differ to a great extent from those put forward in the California Air Resources Board legislation, an open and peer-reviewed process which led to ILUC values for biodiesel which are four to five times lower than those found by the [Ecofys] study.”

The land use impacts for biofuels and biodiesel were evaluated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in September 2015.

In the revision of its Low Carbon Fuel Standard regulation, CARB found indirect land use change (ILUC) values for biodiesel which are four to five times lower than the European Commission’s results.

The EBB also quoted the European Commission as saying that a “scientific peer review of the [Ecofys] study would be desirable” and that “if the model structure cannot fully be disclosed, such a review cannot meet the quality standards set by academic rules”.