Ireland’s hopes of reviving its sugar industry and the aligned development of its biofuels sector could be dashed by draft European proposals to reduce the amount of land devoted to biomass crops.
Irish Bioenergy Association president Tom Bruton claimed the EU’s discussion document for new rules on indirect land use change, if approved, would be disastrous for Irish biomass industries.
The proposal would change the EU target for crop-based biofuels and bioliquids from a minimum 10% to a maximum 5% target, as a percentage of renewable energy in transport. It would also introduce a multiplication factor from two to four for some wastes and residues.
Regarding the biofuels production, the draft requires 60% CO2 savings for new biofuels installations. Furthermore, there would be no bonus for degraded land anymore.
"This draft would limit the Irish biofuels sector to its present levels, and the industry is already struggling here," Mr Bruton said. "This would also put paid to talk about reviving the sugar beet industry, part of which was linked to biofuel production.
"I also take issue with the notion of a land use debate based on ‘food versus biofuels’. Agriculture isn’t possible without fuel and transport. Without transport, how do you plough the land? How do you bring the food to the marketplace without transport?
"These questions are not being asked in considering these changes. And if you don’t develop biofuels, then does Europe accept remaining dependent on the world’s rapidly diminishing oil resources?"
Mr Bruton also questioned whether the EU can reach its goal of displacing 10% of oil-based road transport under rules that would insist only 5% of the alternative fuel be from crop-based biofuel. The draft proposes that the EU make up the biofuel shortfall via more efficient waste management and greater use of non-crop material to produce biofuel.
He said that "old banana skins" and other domestic waste cannot make up the difference, despite proposals to double the premium associated with this type of recycling.
The European Commission’s proposals also include a promise to end all public subsidies for crop-based biofuels after the current legislation expires in 2020. The goal is to boost European consumption of ethanol, which accounts for just over 20% of the EU biofuel market, versus biodiesel’s 78% share.
"The good news is that this proposal, if adopted, would stop further expansion of current types of unsustainable biofuels, which is an important step. But the bad news is that it fails to do anything about the current volumes of these fuels," said Nusa Urbancic, clean fuels campaigner for the NGO Transport & Environment.
The charity Oxfam expressed concern that devoting too much land to biofuel-focused crops is adding to global hunger. Oxfam links this year’s record high prices for corn and soy to the growth in biofuels.
Natalia Alonso, head of Oxfam’s EU office, stated: "Europe has helped spark a global rush for biofuels that is forcing poor families from their homes, while big business piles up the profits. Biofuels were meant to make transport greener, but European governments are pouring consumers’ money down the drain, while depriving millions of people of food, land, and water.
"The current spike is a loud alarm bell that should wake up EU energy min-isters. It’s this simple: Unless EU governments scrap their biofuel mandates, which will double biofuel consumption over the next few years, many more people will be plunged into poverty."
However, the European Biomass Association argues that the proposals will only see European biofuels being replaced with non-EU biofuel imports. While intended to redirect land use away from biofuels and towards food, the proposals, they said, will cause increased CO2 and carbon emissions, plus increased imports of biofuel and fossil fuels.