Advanced fuels 'crucial' to breaking EU's oil dependence

Biofuels could significantly reduce Europe's transport emissions, argues Ismail Ertug.

By Ismail Ertug

Ismail Ertug (DE, S&D) is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN), where he is rapporteur for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure.

18 Feb 2015

Promoting alternative fuels, such as liquefied natural gas, compressed natural gas, electricity or hydrogen is a key challenge for EU transport policy today.

The transport sector alone remains responsible for around a quarter of all EU carbon dioxide emissions, making it the second largest emitting sector after energy.

The renewable energy directive sets a target share of 10 per cent consumption via renewable sources in the transport sector by 2020.

"Specific EU action is urgently required to improve the environmental and social impacts of biofuels"

This will help to achieve the EU's aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent in this timeframe, when compared to 1990 levels.

Advanced fuels are also crucial in order to break the oil dependence of European transport, as the sector is 94 per cent dependent on this fuel source, the lion's share of which is being imported.

While research and new technologies have led to successful solutions for oil-substitution in every transport mode, market take-up still lags significantly behind.

In its impact assessment the European commission identified a lack of sufficient infrastructure as one of the main market barriers for many alternative fuels.

The new EU directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure, which was adopted in October 2014, aims to overcome the problem by creating more investment security as well as consumer acceptance.

Member states are now required to develop national policy frameworks for the future market development of alternative fuels.

As the deployment rate progresses differently in each member state, it is important at this stage not to impose a one-size-fits-all strategy.

A reasonable amount of leverage is left to the member states, while ensuring pan-European coordination to achieve consistent development.

Most importantly, the new legal framework sets common technical standards for recharging and refuelling stations, making it possible for example to recharge an electric car from France at a German recharging station without the use of an expensive adapter.

The directive also aims to link existing infrastructure to planned European refuelling and recharging stations in order to assure sufficient coverage along the trans-European transport network.

If produced sustainably, the use of biofuels presents another potential for long-term oil substitution.

"If produced sustainably, the use of biofuels presents another potential for long-term oil substitution"

Biofuels are only marginally considered in the new clean power for transport directive, as there is no need for specific infrastructure.

Biofuels today already account for a significant share of the total fuels consumed in EU transport.

Yet, specific EU action is urgently required to improve the environmental and social impacts of biofuels.

With its October 2012 legislative proposal on biofuels, the commission is seeking to introduce new rules to enhance its sustainability.

Most importantly, the problem of indirect land use change must be tackled, to ensure the use of biofuels leads to lower, not higher greenhouse gas emissions.

Furthermore, a rigorous cap on the use of first generation biofuels as proposed by the commission, and the introduction of strict criteria ensuring sustainability throughout the whole life cycle of biofuels, are key to exploiting the fuel's potential as a legitimate oil substitute.

However, success can only be ensured if the EU creates more investment security for alternative fuels, as well as preventing the unintended promotion of polluting biofuels, then the EU 2020-targets have a chance to be realistically met.


Read the most recent articles written by Ismail Ertug - Renewable hydrogen is Europe’s best bet for emissions-free mobility