Politics / Law

EU to review biofuel sustainability

13.06.2011

Brussels – Until now, deforestation due to the planting of biofuel crops hasn’t been taken into account when calculating eco-balances for biofuel production. However, it could be the source of vast quantities of greenhouse gases, especially when farmers sell land to bio­fuel producers and then burn forests to clear more for food production. By July, the European Commission will publish a report addressing the question, and it’s already dividing the biofuel industry. Looking at 15 bio­fuel crops, the paper will for the first time analyse the impact of so-called indirect land use change (ILUC) on the sustainability of biofuels – which currently have annual markets totalling EUR11.4bn.
For most companies relying on first-generation biofuels made from corn or wheat starch, the Commission’s review of its bio­fuel strategy is bad news. If ILUC in fact worsens the eco-balance of their products, it would directly contradict the EU’s sustainability goals, thus limiting sales. In a European Parliament environment panel debate about the Commission’s plans, Austrian MEP Karin Kadenbach said that “it is not acceptable that biofuels are produced at the cost of food production, especially as long as it has not been proven that they offer benefits for the climate.”
But for companies like Novozymes or Süd-Chemie (now part of Clariant), which have developed technologies to make bioethanol from straw (see EuroBiotechNews 7-8/2010), the Commission’s plan could open up new market opportunities. Their second-generation bio­fuels are ILUC-

neutral. “ILUC could create a window of opportunities,” says Novozymes’ Kare Nielsen. He predicts straw-based biofuels could become competitive with petroleum products by 2020. In June, the International Energy Agency reported that climate-warming emissions rose by 5% in 2010.

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