The current status of biofuels in the European Union, their environmental impacts and future prospects

EASAC Policy Report Nr 19

Considerations of food security in the context of the increasing demand for food and fodder to meet the needs of a growing global population suggest that there will be continuing pressures on edible plant material, which should exclude its use in biofuel production. The working group recommends that the preferred route for biofuels in the future should be through more advanced (second- and third-generation) technologies. The EU announcement that restrictions would be placed on the eligibility of food-based biofuel to contribute to the biofuel target is therefore a welcome first step towards its exclusion.

Teaser: The current status of biofuels in the European Union, their environmental impacts and future prospects

Second-generation biofuels based on inedible parts of plants, including straw, wood and waste streams, and third-generation biofuels, based on algae, show promise. Some second-generation technologies appear to offer much improved reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. However, they will not be in full- scale production before 2020 and the anticipated improvements remain to be demonstrated at the commercial scale, Substantial investment in research and development is still required.
The Working Group note that substantial amounts of food are lost after harvest and that this material constitutes a large compostable resource for the production both of biogas and of solid by-products that could usefully be returned to the soil. It is recommended that the role of biogas in the renewable energy mix should be investigated and that the Renewable Energy Directive should be amended to incorporate provisions for biogas.

This study arises from concerns about the use of biomass for producing road transport fuels and about the arrangements for ensuring that such fuels provide a real climate benefit while not harming the wider environment. It has been generated as an output of a study by a Working Group of experts on biofuels and biodiversity established by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) in 2011.

EASAC [1] policy report Nr 19, December 2012 , ISBN 978-3-8047-3118-9

Hard Copies of the report can be ordered (within Switzerland) through Michael Saladin SCNAT [2]