The EU Parliament's environment committee last month backed amendments to a revised renewables law that effectively exclude crop-based biofuels by 2030.
The EU Commission had suggested, in its proposed RED revisions, to lower the contribution of crop biofuels to the EU renewable energy transport supply from 7% to 3.8%.
However, the environments MEPs argued that growing biofuel crops on existing agricultural land can displace food production to previously non-agricultural land such as forests.
From a feed industry’s perspective, a complete phase out of first generation feedstocks for EU biofuel production is not appropriate, said the EU Feed Manufacturer's Federation (FEFAC).
We talked to Nicolas Martin, FEFAC policy officer, earlier this week. He said the Commission’s suggestion of a cap on the use of food and feed crops for biofuel production to 3.8% would be a more conciliatory approach.
First generation biofuels contribution to EU renewable energy transport targets is currently only at 4.2% anyhow, he noted.
"Basically, at 3.8%, the Commission is proposing a kind of status quo, which, for us, is probably acceptable. We have the feeling the current situation is a good compromise between maintaining availability of these co-products, without putting too much pressure on the [agriculture] commodities that are used. We certainly would not support unlimited possibility for growth. Capping, from our perspective, makes sense.”
He said EU policymakers must bear in mind that when they discuss biofuel policy, even though it is, primarily, an energy related one, any revisions to it will have direct consequences for other sectors, and, in particular, protein supply, the aspect relevant to FEFAC.
"We have [continuously] called for a broader perspective.
“Maybe there are some negative aspects associated with first generation biofuels; nevertheless rapeseed meal [which results from biofuel production] represents an important supply of protein [in the EU]."
Feedstocks for EU biofuels
When it comes to biofuels, Europe is mainly a producer of biodiesel. The principal feedstock for biodiesel grown in the EU is rapeseed. Imported soybeans, crushed in Europe, are also used as feedstock for biodiesel, with the oil going to fuel and the meal going to feed.
EU bioethanol production is less significant, though, in terms of volumes. Corn and wheat are feedstocks for bioethanol, with distillers' grain the protein co-product generated.
Germany and France are two of the largest producers of rapeseed. When asked whether they then, as the countries that have a heavier reliance than others on biodiesel production for protein rich co-products, would be the only markets really hit by a phase out of arable crop based biofuels, Martin said:
“All the markets are connected, and, if that feedstock is not available in France or in Germany, those countries will have to use something else. Then, there will be consequences [of a phase out of arable crop based biofuels] for the whole European market. You cannot say because it is only used in a few countries, that these are the only countries that will be affected.”
In terms of next steps, he said the EU Council is supposed to agree its position on this file just before Christmas.
That body would seem to favour setting a 15% target for renewable energy in transport and it has proposed a 7% cap on the contribution of crop biofuels for EU renewables support by 2030.
The plenary vote of the EU Parliament on the directive is due in February, said Martin. But the environment committee's vote may well be amended by the full parliament, he said.
“The Environment Committee does not have the lead on this. So I don’t think their position will fly in the plenary vote."
Move on molasses
Martin did welcome, though, the environment MEPs proposal to remove molasses from the list of second generation biofuel feedstocks.
He told us in a previous interview that: "Molasses, quite important from an energy perspective in animal nutrition, but also as a binding agent and used for improving the taste of feed, should not be on the list of second generation biofuel feedstocks, which was drawn up DG Energy.
"We have heard that perhaps beet pulp, again a key ingredient in feed, might be included in the future. As far as we are concerned such raw materials are fake second generation feedstocks, and need to be removed."