Biofuel is often heralded as a step in the right direction when it comes to the development of cleaner fuels. But scratch below the oily surface and all is not as it seems. According to European Union reports some biodiesel (a form of biofuel that can be used to power diesel engines) may actually increase the impacts of climate change. Perplexed? You should be. Reuters’s Charlie Dunmore explains.
The EU will protect existing investment in its $13 billion biodiesel sector even as it acts on new evidence that suggests making the fuel from food crops can do more harm than good in fighting climate change.
The environmental arguments in favour of using biodiesel were thrown into doubt last week by a series of leaked European Union reports, revealed by Reuters.
The reports said using Asian palm oil, South American soybeans and EU rapeseed to make biodiesel has a bigger overall impact than conventional diesel on climate change, partly due to forests or wetlands being destroyed to grow replacement food.
European Union policymakers are preparing a political compromise that will safeguard existing biodiesel investments, having baulked at penalising individual biofuel crops.
While biodiesel producers will be given time to realise a return on the massive investment of recent years, the latest scientific findings are likely to lose them market share in coming years to bioethanol and advanced biofuels, which the reports found to be generally preferable.
Senior European Commission officials met in Brussels this week to debate policy options for addressing the indirect impacts of the bloc's biofuel target, which aims to raise the share of biofuel in road transport to around 10 percent by 2020.
With biodiesel representing about 80 percent of Europe's estimated $17 billion market for biofuels and the bloc dependent on diesel imports to meet rising demand, the officials agreed to delay any action that could kill off the biodiesel sector.
"I think they are going to arrive at a political compromise," Philippe Tillous-Borde, chairman of the EU's largest biodiesel producer, Diester Industrie, told Reuters.