T&E analysis shows use of biodiesel for transport more harmful to environment than fossil fuels

The use of biodiesel for transport is set to increase Europe’s overall transport emissions by almost 4%, which is equivalent to putting around 12 million additional cars on Europe’s roads in 2020, according to analysis by Transport & Environment (T&E). Based in Brussels, T&E represents around 50 organisations across Europe, mostly environmental groups and campaigners working for sustainable transport policies at national, regional and local level.

The analysis takes into account the 7% cap on the contribution of biofuels produced from food crops.

EU-member countries have blended small percentages of biofuels into petrol and diesel fuel, in accordance with the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which requires 10% of transport energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

But a recent study commissioned by the European Commission entitled “The land use change impact of biofuels consumed in the EU: Quantification of area and greenhouse gas impacts,” found palm, rapeseed and soy-based biodiesel to have land-use change emissions exceeding the full lifecycle emissions of fossil-based diesel fuel.

T&E’s analysis adds to these figures the direct emissions of biofuels e.g. from tractors, fertilisers, and installations, and subtracts emissions from the fossil alternative.

On average, biodiesel from virgin vegetable oil leads to around 80% higher emissions than the fossil-based diesel fuel it replaces. The report also stated that soy and palm-based biodiesel are even two and three times worse, respectively. This type of biodiesel is the most popular biofuel in the European market and has been forecasted to have an almost 70% share by 2020.

In total more than three-quarters of biofuels, which includes bioethanol as well as biodiesel, are forecast to have lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions similar or higher than fossil-based petrol and diesel fuel in 2020.

“The European Commission has finally revealed that Europe’s policy failure in stimulating bad biofuels is even more spectacular than previous scientific research indicated. We should phase out the mandating, subsidising and zero-carbon accounting of these fuels at European and national level after 2020,” said Jos Dings, executive director of Transport & Environment.

Last year’s reform of EU biofuels policy established a limit on the growing consumption of land-based biofuels, which, because of indirect land-use change (ILUC) emissions, often increase carbon emissions rather than reducing them. But the reform failed to include ILUC emissions in the carbon accounting of biofuels under RED and the Fuel Quality Directive, meaning harmful biofuels can still be counted toward the EU targets and receive public financial support.

The European Commission is currently reviewing the RED and sustainability criteria for all bioenergy, including biofuels, and it will publish a proposal in the final quarter of this year.