Strict sustainability standards for biofuel in the European Union (EU) are set by the European Commissioner on Energy. Biofuels are considered a renewable alternative to fossil fuels in the transportation sector for the EU. The EU has played a large role in increasing the use of biofuels in member states; however, it has also aimed, to some extent, to mitigate the potential negative impacts of biofuel production. Current EU legislation on biofuels includes a goal to increase renewable energy consumption by 20%, eliminate biofuel feedstock sourced from carbon-rich land, accounting for emissions caused from land use change as well as solely biofuel usage, and reducing greenhouse gas intensities from fuels used in transport and machinery.
The European Union (EU) has its own subsidiary body that handles all energy-related issues, called the European Commission on Energy. They define biofuels as “liquid or gaseous transport fuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol which are made from biomass”. Chemically, biofuels are alcohols produced by fermenting raw materials from starch and sugars. One of the more prominent biofuels, ethanol, is made up of biomass such as sugarcane and corn. Other sources of biofuel such as biomethane and biofertilizers are produced from unusable straw. The use of these products increases the energy yield per hectare of agricultural land by as much as 50%. Compared to petroleum, this process leads to up to an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide production. Ethanol fuels can be used as a fuel substitute or as an additive in vehicles using combustion engines. If these fuels are used for electricity or heating, they are considered bioliquids. According to the European Commission on Energy, biofuels “emit less CO2, contain no sulphur compounds, and are generally more efficient due to their higher energy density”. The goals of the EU are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce their dependency on other nations for fossil fuels. For this resource to be considered renewable, the EU has strict sustainability standards for the production of and use of biofuels. The three main criteria for biofuels to be sustainable and allowed for use are:
- Biofuels must achieve greenhouse gas savings of at least 35% versus fossil fuels, which then rises to 50% in 2017, then rises again to 60% in 2018. The rising standards are only for new production plants. (The entire life cycle emissions of the fuel are taken into account in these savings which includes cultivation, processing, and transport.)
- Biofuels must not be grown in areas that are currently, or were previously, carbon sinks (e.g. wetlands, forests).
- Raw materials obtained from areas with high biodiversity, such as forests or grasslands, cannot be used to produce biofuels.
To ensure these standards are met by the companies that produce and cultivate biofuels, there are several ways that the EU may verify their compliance. One method is that these companies must participate in voluntary schemes. A scheme is an independent and external group or company that will verify whether a company is following the sustainability criteria for biofuels. The schemes are usually privately run but must be recognized as valid by the European Commission.
The following is a list of approved voluntary schemes:
- ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification)
- Bonsucro EU
- RTRS EU RED (Round Table on Responsible Soy EU RED)
- RSB EU RED (Roundtable of Sustainable Biofuels EU RED)
- 2BSvs (Biomass Biofuels voluntary scheme)
- Red Tractor (Red Tractor farm Assurance Combinable Crops & Sugar Beet Scheme)
- SQC (Scottish Quality Farm Assured Combinable Crops scheme)
- Red Cert
- HVO Renewable Diesel Scheme for Verification of Compliance with the RED sustainability criteria for biofuels
- Gafta Trade Assurance Scheme
- KZR INIG System
- Trade Assurance Scheme for Combinable Crops
- Universal Feed Assurance Scheme