Still wasted

04/28/2015 11:57:00

In 2014, the ICCT released a report called ‘Wasted’. Compiled as a co-effort with the European Climate Foundation, environmental NGOs and a coalition of advanced biofuel companies – including UPM – the report identified that Europe has an opportunity to use biomass resources that currently have little or no value in order to meet a significant fraction of European transport fuel demand.

These resources included crop residues left over after the harvest, woody residues from forestry and biomass in municipal solid waste. Developing an advanced biofuel industry to take advantage of these resources could result in a reduction in fossil fuel use, significant carbon emissions reductions, reduced expenditure on oil imports, money going back into rural economies and tens of thousands of jobs being created. And provided the industry adopts basic sustainability principles, this could all be achieved with minimal impact on the environment, without interfering with food security.

Fast forward a year, and the European Council and Parliament are in the final phase of negotiating amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive that will provide a framework to create incentives for these advanced technology fuels. The most important part of the package for second-generation biofuel investment is a proposed sub-target that by 2020 0.5% of transport energy should be supplied from advanced fuels produced from waste and residues.

This is a major development for the European industry, but there’s a catch. Europe’s Member States, concerned about the achievability of this target, have made it non-binding on themselves. Investors tend not to be interested in targets that aren’t going to be enforced, so the mandate for progressive Member States is clear – following the finalization of the ILUC Directive, they need to legislate for binding national targets as quickly as possible and inject some much needed certainty into the investment picture. Italy has already got ahead of the curve by adopting targets all the way to 2022. If enough Member States follow that lead, the EU will start to look like it means business when it comes to getting steel in the ground, and that will mean jobs, investments and some real carbon savings.

In the original ‘Wasted’ report, we calculated fuel potential at the European level, showing that there is enough resource sustainably available to replace over 10% of European road transport fuel by 2030, if it could all be collected and utilised. In February this year we followed up on that study by publishing our assessment of resource availability at the national level for eleven countries. The core finding was that every Member State we examined has more than enough resources available to meet a 0.5% target several times over with domestic facilities. The resources vary from country to country – France and Germany have more agricultural residues, Finland and Sweden have more forestry residues, the UK has a large resource in waste sent to landfill – but the basic conclusion is the same. Those Member States that are willing to commit to doing what it takes to get the advanced biofuels industry on its feet have an opportunity to take the lead in technology development for an industry with enormous potential to expand in the coming decades.