Review of the EU sustainability scheme for biofuels

Published: 27/03/2013

The European Renewable Energy Directive (RED) currently contains a target of 10% renewable energy in the EU transport sector by 2020. Biofuels are expected to play an important role in achieving this target. Any biofuels that count towards the target have to prove that they comply with mandatory sustainability criteria. Two years on from the implementation of the sustainability requirements, Ecofys, on behalf of the European Commission and together with Winrock and the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP), examines three important aspects of how the sustainability requirements are being put into practice.

1) Whether it is necessary and feasible to introduce mandatory sustainability requirements for biofuels in relation to air, soil or water protection. The air, soil and water risks from biofuel feedstock cultivation are largely the same as the risks from any kind of agricultural expansion. However, biofuel markets can bring additional pressure on areas under existing agricultural use. Air, soil and water protection is very local in nature, and the impacts felt depend on how individual projects are managed. The report identifies existing mechanisms that could be built on to mitigate risks, such as use of voluntary schemes, and defines potential criteria that could be considered by the Commission.

2) The effectiveness and administrative burden of national systems being put in place for companies to demonstrate compliance with the mandatory sustainability requirements. Member States have taken a variety of approaches to implement the sustainability requirements. The choice of system itself does not ensure high or low effectiveness or administrative burden, but design choices such as who to report to and how or whether alternative mechanisms are offered to demonstrate compliance can have a big impact. Recommendations are given to help Member States maximise effectiveness and avoid unnecessary burden. The next challenge for Member States is to improve harmonisation between different schemes to improve efficiency across the EU.

3) Learning lessons from the operation of the mass balance chain of custody system used to trace sustainability claims through biofuel supply chains. Biofuel companies have taken large strides in ensuring traceability in their supply chains. On the whole, stakeholders prefer that the Commission sticks with the current mass balance chain of custody approach and effort is focussed on ensuring the current approach is optimised and a consistent approach is taken across different Member States and voluntary schemes.

The three reports can be found on the website of the European Commission.

Concurrently, in another project, Ecofys provided a detailed analysis of the progress in renewable energy in the European Member States and of the sustainability impacts of biofuels in the EU, in the frame of the European Commission’s reporting obligation. More information can be found here.

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Sacha Alberici
Sustainable Industries and Services