Study: Increased ethanol use could reduce European GHG emission by 14%

Higher use of ethanol in Europe would contribute to a 14.1% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction in European transport, a new study finds.

Conducted by global consultancy Ricardo Energy & Environment and commissioned by ePure, the study states that the reduction will stand even after possible land use change (ILUC) emissions have been taken into account.

It explores the potential contribution of ethanol for reducing Europe’s transport emissions up to 2030, building upon previous Ricardo research carried out for the European Commission’s DG Clima and for the European Climate Foundation, both using the Sultan model.

However, this most recent study removes artificial constraints on ethanol uptake by focusing on the introduction of E20 high-octane fuel, a fuel blend containing 20% ethanol and 80% petrol, and vehicles with engines optimised to run more efficiently.

“European ethanol already makes a strong contribution to decarbonising Europe’s transport sector and can help to reduce the climate impacts of the fuels we use to power petrol cars,” said Robert Wright, secretary-general of the European renewable ethanol association ePURE.

The EU has set the objective to achieve at least 40% GHG reductions across the entire economy by 2030.

The European Commission has already signalled that this 2030 objective will require 12-20% GHG reductions in transport and is expected to present a Communication on 20 July detailing areas for further action.

The Ricardo study finds that even after accounting for estimates of ILUC emissions, the use of biofuels results in significant well-to-wheel GHG reductions compared to the use of conventional fossil based fuels.

Increasing the share of ethanol beyond 2020 levels further reduces GHG emissions, and the highest GHG reductions in transport (14.1%) compared to 2005 are achieved when ethanol use is increased through the introduction of E20.

This reduction is compared to a 9.3% GHG reduction in a scenario with no biofuels at all.

‘Win-win situation’

The study confirms that ethanol contributes the most to reducing GHG emissions in transport due to ethanol’s relatively low ILUC impact, based on GLOBIOM modelling work, and the improved efficiency benefits of E20 optimised vehicles which result in lower net fuel consumption.

Ricardo’s findings validate a meta-analysis by the University of Vienna, which found that ethanol makes petrol combust more cleanly and efficiently, ePure says in a statement.

The study concludes that policy makers should explore the deployment of high-octane E20 fuel and vehicles with E20 optimised engines in the context of reducing transport emissions by 2030 and in the longer-term to 2050.

“This study shows that ethanol’s climate benefits can be further enhanced through the use of higher ethanol blends. E20 fuel is a win-win for Europe’s climate because it significantly reduces emissions and its high-octane content increases engine efficiency resulting in less fuel consumption,” Wright said.