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A sustainable framework for biofuels in the European Union

October 4th, 2012 by Ignacio Perez-Arriaga, Comillas University

Biofuels are a key component of the EU strategy to improve the efficiency in transport, one of the sectors with a larger energy use and carbon emissions in Europe, and for which the European Commission has set very ambitious reduction objectives

However, several difficulties have been identified regarding the long-term sustainability of the European Commission’s Policy around biofuels. The major ones have to do with the global availability of biofuels that comply with the sustainability requirements in Europe, the compatibility with current vehicles, and the perception of consumers. To this we should add the market segmentation created by the disconnection between Member State regulations, and the particularities of the European vehicles fleet, mainly diesel.

It should also be remarked that the penetration rate of advanced biofuels is not progressing as expected. On the other hand, technical progress is already reducing carbon emissions from conventional vehicles.

Therefore, it seems necessary to question some of the elements of the current European policy framework around biofuels, in order meet the initial intent of the policy – increasing security of supply and reducing carbon emissions from transport.

This was the objective of the BP Forum on Energy and Sustainability, which met in Madrid in June 2012, and in which more than 30 international experts have looked at the technical, environmental and regulatory aspects of biofuels and have formulated proposals for the improvement of the current policies. The major ones have been:
– In the short term, it seems necessary to introduce flexible policies to achieve the targets set for 2020;
– At the same time, it is essential to make compatible both the short-term and the long-term goals. For example, a short-term measure such as encouraging the use of first-generation biofuels may run against achieving the long-term objectives; support for advanced biofuels are a key element to the success of EU transport policies.
– Improving the efficiency of transport helps achieving both short-term and long-term objectives. Therefore, it should be an element in all policies;
– It must be seriously considered whether indirect land use changes (ILUC) need to be included as a factor in biofuels policies. ILUC cannot be measured accurately enough for policymakers to apply ILUC factors and to do so would be unfair to economic operators
– In some countries in Europe there is an unbalance between diesel and gasoline consumption that should be taken into account when implementing measures for achieving biofuel targets; correcting the unbalance would also result in efficiency improvements;
– In a broader sense, biofuel policies should be integrated in a comprehensive and stable regulation of transport in Europe, which should also consider other goals and consequences for this sector;
– Vehicle manufacturers should be incorporated into biofuel policy, offering them appropriate, long-term and stable incentives;
– It is also essential to gain consumers’ trust, via customers awareness programs;
– Finally, the harmonization of national regulations is a must in order to create a real European market for biofuels.

Ignacio Pérez-Arriaga (Director, BP Chair de Energía y Sostenibilidad, Universidad Pontificia Comillas) and Pedro Linares (Associate Professor at the Industrial Engineering Department of the ICAI Schol of Engineering, and currently Vice-Rector for Research and International Affairs at Comillas Pontifical University).

A full account of the discussions held in the Forum may be found in the website of the BP Chair.

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