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EU to set limit on food-based biofuels

Published time: June 14, 2014 19:44
Reuters / Simon Akam

Reuters / Simon Akam

EU ministers have agreed to 7% cap on the use of food-based biofuels in transport fuel. The agreement comes after a long-standing controversy, with biofuels being criticized for adding to environmental problems.

The so-called "first generation" biofuels are made from crops such as maize, beetroot, or rapeseed. They were initially backed by the EU as a way to tackle climate change and reduce EU dependence on imported oil and gas. However, research has since shown that biofuels do more environmental harm than good.

Making fuel out of crops has been criticized for displacing other crops and forcing the clearing of valuable habitats and virgin vegetation, particularly mangrove swamps in Southeast Asia. Biofuels have also been blamed for inflating food prices by competing with food production, which leads to shortages and higher prices in some of the world's poorest countries.

In response to the criticism, EU energy ministers agreed on a reduction of biofuels use at a meeting on Friday. The new deal is aimed at capping the use of fuel made from food products to seven percent of transport sector energy use by 2020.

An original target set in 2009 was 10 percent, but the European Commission originally backed a five percent limit. Acknowledging that the current seven percent agreement is weaker than hoped, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said the result is “better than no decision at all.”

"We need to support research and development in advanced biofuels so we can move forward from generation one into generation two and generation three," Oettinger told the Luxembourg meeting of ministers. The deal must now be considered by the newly-elected European Parliament, which is expected to begin dealing with it later this year.

Reuters / David Mdzinarishvili

The next generation of more sophisticated biofuels is expected to come from waste or products which do not need dedicated land. It is hoped that these biofuels will solve some of the current issues. However, more investment is needed for such an outcome. Environmental campaigners say advanced biofuels are far from being able to make a difference at the moment.

Meanwhile, the US is quite eager to rely on biofuels. On June 12, the Department of the US Navy announced that at least 140 million liters of drop-in biofuels are being sought as part of its marine diesel and shipboard jet fuel supply.

Another recent US report from the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute summarizes numerous ways in which eucalyptus trees can help produce biofuels and biomaterials in a sustainable way. The efforts of dozens of researchers from 30 international institutions show that eucalyptus trees can be an easily renewable source of biomass which do not compete with native food crops.

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