Forests_of_North_AS711_066Can't Eat This. Bio4Energy will use no edible feedstock. Photo by Anna Strom©.The European Commission last month gave the go-ahead to seven voluntary schemes that biofuel makers or importers across the EU member states may use to assess whether their products have a sufficiently low environmental impact and, more specifically, meet sustainability criteria set out under the EU’s renewable energy directive. 

Manufacturers applying to receive government support or to have the production or consumption of their biofuels count towards mandatory national renewable energy targets should meet the RED criteria from 2009, a statement from the EU executive said.

To do so, firms could choose to adhere to national schemes designed for the purpose or to seek recognition by one of the seven schemes that the Commission cleared 19 July. Each of them might be used to verify "where and how the biofuels are produced" and had built-in checks to monitor that the schemes functioned as intended, the Commission statement said. 

While some of them focused on a certain type on raw material or feedstock for producting biofuels not sourced from forests, or were particular to certain areas of the world, others might be used by Bio4Energy's industrial partners in their efforts to develop sustainable biofuels from forest-sourced biomass and to bring them to market.

Benefits for firms would include obtaining a level playing field compared with other European biofuel producers who choose to adhere to the guidelines. Moreover a common standard for certification could become recognised regionally or internationally and trusted by trading partners.

Further, the schemes mooted by the Commission could serve to give business operators and bioenergy scientists insights into the type and stringency of requirements that might be asked by national or international bodies developing schemes to check the environmental, social and economic effects of biofuels.

Thirty-five per cent cut in GHG emissions demanded

The schemes were designed to allow for biofuels sourced from various feedstock to be checked against headline sustainability criteria. To pass muster, a biofuel should deliver greenhouse gas emission reductions of at least 35 per cent when used to power an automotive vehicle, as compared with using a fossil-based (petrochemical) alternative under similar conditions. This figure would rise incrementally, in a first step to 50 per cent by 2017.

So-called second-generation biofuels based on non-edible crops or waste should be preferred and fuel makers shy away from drawing on feedstock produced on land converted from tropical forests or carbon-rich peat lands. In particular, manufacturers should avoid basing their fuels on cash crops such as palm oil or sugar cane.

Companies might choose whether to “demonstrate compliance” with EU sustainability criteria by joining a national scheme or one of those cleared by the Commission 19 July, the Commission statement said. Firms that went for the latter option might have their products “recognised” (approved) by the EU executive for a period of five years and certified by the relevant scheme.

“We need to make sure that the entire biofuels’ production chain is sustainable”, said European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger on issuing the approvals. This has been B4E's chief argument when submitting its views to public consultations on the direction of EU funding schemes for research and innovation.

The seven voluntary schemes are posted in the Energy section of the Commission’s website.

The schemes require firms that subscribe to them to comply with the following criteria, in particular: 
    • Land use. No land rich in carbon stock or biodiversity, nor wet lands or protected areas, may be harvested in view of producing biofuels or of conversion into biofuels plantations.
    • Reduction in or avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions. An automotive vehicle running on a biofuel approved by one of the schemes should produce 35 percent less greenhouse emissions compared with petrol-powered equivalents, with further reductions manadated in 2017 and 2018.
    • Checking the entire value chain. Whichever scheme is preferred, it should serve to monitor the production of a biofuel from planting the first seed through to commercialisation. Independent and impartial auditors should monitor compliance and check the schemes themselves for inconsistencies and unintended effects.

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