Renewable ethanol sector waits to see how EU policy will play out

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/photosbyjim
© GettyImages/photosbyjim

Related tags ethanol Ddgs Wheat Green Deal

European renewable ethanol association (ePURE) members produced 5.6bn liters of ethanol and 5.33m tons of co-products in 2019, including 3.83m tons of high-protein, GMO-free DDGS for use in feed, according to new audited data from the industry group.

“Europe’s renewable ethanol industry continues to grow its contribution to EU Green Deal objectives: producing low-carbon fuel to reduce emissions from road transport and high-protein, GMO-free animal feed to reduce the need for imported soybean meal,”​ said Emmanuel Desplechin, secretary-general of ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association. “Europe needs a sustainable bioeconomy that makes the most efficient use of domestic agricultural production and makes an immediate impact in the fight against climate change.”

Based in Brussels, ePURE speaks for 36 member companies and associations, including 19 producers, with around 50 plants in 16 EU Member States, accounting for about 85% of EU renewable ethanol production. 

Desplechin told FeedNavigator today [September 1] that uncertainty over the likely direction of EU policy on biofuels is the key issue facing the sector right now:

“Regulation is the main challenge, as we wait to see how EU policies on renewable energy and fuel quality are enforced for the year 2020, which is ‘judgement year’.  And then these and other policies such as energy taxation will be adapted to reflect the higher environmental ambitions as part of the EU Green Deal agenda.

“Policymakers are debating how much to increase targets for 2030, even as the 2020 targets for renewables in transport and carbon intensity of fuel are at risk of being missed. So, we’re pushing for policymakers at EU and Member State level to reinforce the importance of those targets and make better use of tools that we have now.”

Renewable ethanol production can deliver more than it already is doing, making the EU Green Deal a reality, added the secretary-general. 

More than 99% of the feedstock used to produce renewable ethanol by ePURE members – including cereals, sugars, wastes and residues – was grown or sourced in Europe. In 2019, 48.6% of the ethanol produced was from corn, followed by wheat (21.1%) and sugar (19.3%), as per ePURE data. 

eu bioethanol feedstocks 2019

Support for biofuels in Europe

Asked whether there is a growing opposition to domestic biofuel production in Europe or ongoing support for the sector, Desplechin said the response will be different depending to whom you pose that question:

Polls consistently show the public supports sustainable domestic biofuel production in order to meet climate targets. The opposition has been mostly, and correctly.  focused on ending policies that support palm-oil related biofuels and indirectly contribute to deforestation. But when it comes to domestic production from European feedstock, people see the valuable and immediate contribution renewable ethanol can make in the climate fight.

“The European Commission seems divided according to various departments, with some continuing to want to minimize the contribution of biofuels to transport decarbonization and others realizing that they will be needed to meet Green Deal emissions-reduction ambitions.”

EU renewable ethanol market at a glance

UK market to go full throttle?

In March this year, the UK government launched a consultation period for feedback on E10, a blend of 10% ethanol, commonplace in other European countries like France and also in use at petrol pumps in Finland, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. 

Following the outcome of the consultation, the second half of 2021 could see the introduction of E10 in the UK. Current petrol blends there contain up to 5% bioethanol; however, E10 would see this percentage increase up to 10%.

Grant Pearson, commercial director of Ensus UK on Teeside, which operates one of the largest bioethanol production plants in the Europe, welcomed the consultation when it was announced in March.

Using wheat as a raw material, Ensus, at full capacity, can produce over 400 million liters of bioethanol and 350,000 tons of high protein animal feed – DDGS. Up to 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the production process is also cleaned and liquefied each year by a partner company to be used in soft drinks and food production.

Another similar operation, Vivergo, which was based in Humberside, ceased production in 2018. It cited the UK government’s lack of pace over the past decade to introduce E10 cited as one of the reasons it was shutting down its operations.

Dr Mark Carr, group chief executive at parent company, AB Sugar, told Business Live​ in March this year: “The launch of the E10 consultation today has not changed our position on the operation of our Vivergo plant. Having said that, at the point of closing production we based this on three factors: the ethanol price, the input (wheat) price and certainty of future demand determined by the mandating of E10.

“Any decision to reopen would need to consider the market conditions at the time and these three factors would need to be met. The mandating of E10 is crucial to driving market demand, and only once this is in place can we consider reopening alongside the other two factors.”

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