EU to roll back production, use of biofuel


The European Parliament environmental committee yesterday voted on a proposal to limit use of crop-based biofuels in the Union in a reversal of policy that Hungarian ethanol producers are calling “potentially extraordinarily damaging” and Europe’s biggest biodiesel producer is labelling “a very bad blow.”

Such a change would roll back aspects of a target set in 2008 by the European Union, which called for 10% of all fuel used in transportation to be manufactured from renewable resources by 2020; much of this 10% was to be comprised from sugar, grain and oilseed crops.

The new measure is a response to the EC’s Joint Research Center reports backing up earlier studies showing that use of some crops in manufacturing biodiesel – which accounts for over €8.25 billion of the €13 billion EU biofuel industry – is more damaging to the environment than even petroleum-based fuel. The new law caps biofuel use at 5.5% of total transport fuel.

Committee members also voted for extra incentives to promote advanced or second-generation biofuels, those manufactured from waste product or agricultural residue.

While environmentalist groups are hailing the decision – NGO Transport & Environment CEO Nataša Urbančič enthused that “This vote will pave the way for truly sustainable transport fuels, which actually reduce emissions as of 2020,” for example – some fear the potential economic damage to burgeoning biofuel industries in Hungary and throughout the CEE region.

Former Irish environmental minister Dick Roche lobbied in Brussels on behalf of Hungary-based ethanol producer Pannonia, explaining to local press that the changes to extant biofuel law could “have the potential to damage not only Hungarian ethanol production but also could undermine the very substantial potential that exists in Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and in Croatia.”

Roche was contracted by Hungary-based ethanol producer Pannonia to represent the industry’s interests. Earlier this year, Roche had visited the power plant in Dunaföldvár, where he gained “a very real insight into the extraordinary damage that could arise from the Commission proposals and the really negative effects that they could have on rural communities.” Roche claims that expanding ethanol production in the region could create up to 15,000 new jobs and an additional €4 billion in GDP.

Jean-Philippe Puig, CEO of Sofiproteol, joined in the concerns and was quoted in a Reuters story as stating that the vote “was a very bad blow.” Sofiproteol owns Diester Industrie, currently the European Union’s largest producer of biodiesel.

Approval of the committee proposal makes the changes binding from 2020 for industry and take immediate effect for national governments. The plenary vote on the bill is scheduled for September.

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