Biofuel production is an odd thing. At least that’s how I look at it. As a derivative of biomass, biofuel is created using plants, trees, grass and any other natural component that can ferment and produce bioethanol. But now there’s the first real problem. Although the idea sounds great – “let’s use natural waste to produce fuel” – the impact on the environment could be catastrophic, as where money and business is concerned it’s hard to imagine waste material alone will do.

Image by Spencer Thomas (source: Flickr)

This is precisely what the IEEP concludes in their study. By studying the indirect land use change or ILUC (forest land becomes farm land and eventually biofuel adequate cropland) as a result of the anticipated European wide increases in the use of biofuels up to 2020, the report states that European policy does not adequately protect the environment against negative consequences.

So as with many good things, there is a very bad thing lurking at a distance. Under European law all Member States are required to derive at least 10 percent of their transport fuels from renewable sources by 2020. As the need and demand for biofuels increases, more land conversion to biofuel fitted crops will occur, and as a result, the level of greenhouse gas emissions that will go into the atmosphere will surpass that which would arise from the continued fossil fuel use.

David Baldock, Executive Director IEEP, commented that:

Promoting the use of biofuels with no consideration of indirect land use change (ILUC) has the potential actually to increase the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is vital that this situation is rectified and ILUC impacts are urgently addressed within EU law. It is essential to remember that the renewable energy Directive, which is driving EU biofuel use, was adopted to help combat climate change.

When European countries agreed on a reduction target of 10 percent by 2020, it had been hoped that this would be an opportunity for Europe to adopt innovative solutions such as the use of advanced biofuels or electric transportation in the fight against climate change. According to the IEEP this is far from what’s really happening. Looking at the action plans for emission reductions of several European countries Institute concluded that biofuels will dominate up to 2020, accounting for up to 8,8 percent of transport fuel use.

Biofuels remain devisive. They are regarded by some as important to achieving lower carbon transport, in particular by replacing future use of fossil fuels in heavy freight and aircraft. However, the green credentials of some conventionally produced biofuels are increasingly under scrutiny, with mounting concerns over their environmental footprint. So the question of biofuels remains. Are they good or bad for the environment?

As I was listening to the morning news on Belgian radio, I heard the first comments from the Belgian Biofuel Producers Federation about the IEEP report. They are – obviously – already arguing that the findings in the report are wrong and that the “biofuel industry” is in fact providing a reduction of carbon emissions thanks to the growth of the crops needed to produce biofuel.

I’d like to know what other countries are saying about this and I definitely would like to hear your thoughts. So let me know.

Additional resources:
The report is available for download: Anticipated Indirect Land Use Change Associated with Expanded Use of Biofuels and Bioliquids in the EU – An Analysis of the National Renewable Energy Action Plans’.