Europe neglecting biofuel opportunities

Written by Norica Nicolai on 28 October 2014 in Opinion

 EU policy must help to realise the potential of European biorefineries, says Norica Nicolai.

Biorefineries and renewable ethanol have never been more important to Europe’s future. Renewable ethanol is the clearest example of Europe’s emerging bio-based economy and has the potential to contribute significantly to solving some of Europe's biggest challenges now and in the future.

But our high-level policy conference, 'European biorefineries: realising the potential of the bio-based economy', which took place in the European parliament last week, organised by ePURE and Copa-Cogeca, was dominated by one over-riding conclusion; it's time for Europe to turn the potential of biorefineries into reality.

Businesses that have invested hundreds of millions of euros in biorefinery facilities and other stakeholders concerned about Europe's future were united in the view that it is time to move beyond 'potential'. It is time to realise the immense opportunity that renewable ethanol, produced in Europe’s biorefineries using European biomass, offers for our future.

"It is time to realise the immense opportunity that renewable ethanol, produced in Europe’s biorefineries using European biomass, offers for our future"

In Europe, the renewable ethanol industry is already helping to revitalise agriculture and rural communities by generating new income for farmers; stimulating investment in agriculture, boosting farm efficiency and crop yields; and creating high-skilled green jobs in rural areas. It is improving Europe's energy security by replacing imported oil in EU transport. With greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings of up to 90 per cent compared to fossil fuels, it is also helping in the much-needed decarbonisation of EU transport, a sector representing some 30 per cent of total EU GHG emissions.

Europe has some of the most efficient agricultural production in the world and is already very advanced in key technologies. Europe's bio-based innovations and technology are already making it possible to use waste and residues for the production of advanced biofuels. Biorefineries also offer us a massive opportunity to bring abandoned agricultural land, in countries like Romania, into production and improve the productivity of existing land for food, feed and fuel purposes.

So why are we not capitalising on the fantastic opportunity that the bio-based economy offers us? Why are we still talking about 'potential'? Because Europe’s policymakers have so far failed to create the stable and long-term policy framework that the industry needs.

The construction of a biorefinery represents a very significant capital investment. Without a predictable and long-term policy framework that ensures a future market for ethanol in Europe, investors will not invest - because the commercial risk is simply too high.

Bold investors built Europe's renewable ethanol industry over the last decade on the basis of a clearly defined target in the renewable energy directive for renewable energy use in transport. But that target could soon be reduced, jeopardising investments, and now the European commission tell us that post-2020 there will be no target at all for renewables in EU transport. If member states are left to make their own choices, national targets might appear, as well as different fuel blends, but the result will be an inconsistent internal market for fuels that creates problems for investors, producers and consumers alike.

At last week’s policy conference this instability was identified as a key problem that needs to be solved so that the potential of biorefineries can be met through credible and consistent, rather than confusing, policy.

Europe should look to the US where a clear, consistent and stable mandate has transformed the renewable ethanol industry. As a consequence, investors have poured into the US, very often European ones, who see clearer opportunities there than in Europe. We simply cannot afford this technology leakage.

Potential is no longer acceptable. Europe needs the jobs, the rural growth, the energy security and the GHG emission reductions that ethanol can provide right now. The industry is ready to deliver, ready to meet the challenge. Are EU member states ready to do the same?

About the author

Norica Nicolai is a vice-president of parliament's ALDE group and a member of parliament's fisheries committee

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