A vision for European ethanol in 2020... and beyond


By Emmanuel Desplechin, ePURE Secretary-General

Most of the climate and energy discussion in Europe at the beginning of 2020 has focused on long-term ambitions – especially the EU Green Deal’s promise of climate-neutrality by 2050. But we should not lose sight of some short-term goals with important implications for reducing transport emissions – goals that will be difficult to achieve unless policymakers act soon.

2020 will be a landmark year on the road to decarbonisation in a couple of important ways. First, it is the year when Member States will need to reach the target of 10% renewable energy in transport under the Renewable Energy Directive, and determine each country’s cap on the use of crop-based biofuel for the next ten years, plus 1% within a maximum of 7%. In other words, the more crop-based biofuels Member States incorporate in their transport energy mix this year, the more they will be able to continue using them over the next decade as the need to reduce emissions becomes more urgent.

This is important, because even during the controversial debates over their sustainability, biofuels have been the main contributor of renewable energy in transport, and because most Member States are lagging behind the 10% target (only two countries, Finland and Sweden, have reached the target; and only two others, Austria and France, are close to reaching it). And as the IEA and IRENA have pointed out, Europe – indeed, the whole world – will need significantly more bioenergy on the road to 2050.

Second, 2020 is the year when countries are supposed to have met targets for reducing the greenhouse-gas intensity of fuels under the Fuel Quality Directive. A recent EEA report revealed that many countries are falling short of this goal.

Looking at data from 2017 as reported in 2018 by 22 EU Member States, the report shows that while average GHG intensity of fuels is 3.4% lower than it was in 2010, that performance fell short of the 2017 indicative target of 4% and risks not meeting the 2020 binding target of 6%. The projected reduction in 2020 is 4.7% assuming a constant reduction rate.

As 2020 began some European countries were taking action to address the need to boost renewables in transport by rolling out E10. Denmark, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovakia adopted the blend, following the successful example of the Netherlands last October and bringing the total number of EU countries with the E10 petrol standard to 13.

Adopting E10 helps countries tackle both of those pressing 2020 issues. It makes the most of the REDII crop cap (which, by the way, could and should be lifted in light of increasing Green Deal decarbonisation goals) and it has an immediate impact on fuel quality. More countries should get on the bandwagon.

Of course, the European ethanol industry looks forward to playing an important role in the EU’s long-term carbon-neutrality goals, helping reduce harmful emissions from cars that will be on the road for decades to come. But to make it to 2050, policymakers must set the right course in 2020.

This article was first published in Biofuels International magazine.