Open letter to MEPs from civil society groups and NGOs calls for a change in EU biofuels policy

A large number of European environmental organisations have written an open letter to MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) asking them to make crucial changes to the EU biofuels policy. The policy is not only failing in its basic objective of cutting CO2 emissions from Europe’s transport, but is also costing governments and taxpayers €10 billion in support every year.  The letter says instead EU biofuel policy exacerbates land grabs, deforestation, hunger and poverty. It questions how it can be justified to support this ineffective policy with so much public money. The letter asks MEPs to halt the expansion of land-based biofuels in transport; to fully account for the lifetime carbon emissions of biofuels, including their indirect land use impacts; and to phase out subsidies and public support for environmentally damaging biofuels. Airlines are interested in using more biofuel, though flights so far using oils that have competing human food use have been minimal.



Open letter to MEPs calling for a change in EU biofuels policy

June 12, 2013

This open letter, signed by a large group of civil society groups and NGOs, calls on Members of the European Parliament to make crucial changes to the EU biofuels policy. The policy is not only failing in its basic objective of cutting CO2 emissions from Europe’s transport, but is also costing governments and taxpayers €10 billion in support every year.

EU biofuels policy is failing

The letter was signed by:

BirdLife International CIDSE
Client Earth
CAN Europe
European Environmental Bureau
Friends of the Earth, Europe
Transport & Environment



Aviation, biofuel, camelina, palm oil

The aviation industry is keen to use biofuels in future, in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions, so the industry can continue to grow, even with carbon restrictions. There have been some claims that 10, 20, 30, 40% of aviation fuel could be biofuel by 2050 or so – though these levels are highly unlikely.

Aviation does not yet use land-based biofuels, though some airlines have carried out test flights using various biofuels. Recently United Airlines announced it would be buying huge volumes of biofuel from what it describes vaguely as “non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes”.  It appears that the oil is likely to camelina. Several US state governments are pushing camelina for biofuels.  Camelina is edible but growing it in larger monocultures is pretty experimental.  It looks a bit like oilseed rape but the yields are much lower, so it requires a lot more  land.  It seems a matter of debate whether it could be said not to compete with food, or therefore have indirect land use impacts.

China Eastern airlines have carried out a flight using palm oil, and are likely to do more.



United hopes to buy 5 million gallons of biofuel per year from AltAir Fuels – from “non-edible natural oils and agricultural wastes”?

Date added: June 6, 2013

US United Airlines has announced that it has executed a definitive purchase agreement with USA-based AltAir Fuels to buy allegedly “sustainable”advanced biofuels at commercial scale. In the partnership AltAir Fuels will retrofit part of an existing petroleum refinery near Los Angeles to produce some 30 million gallons per year, partly of jet fuel and partly other diesel fuel. United has agreed to buy 5 million gallons of the jet fuel each year, for 3 years, starting in 2014, with the option to buy more. United has agreed a price for the fuel that is competitive with traditional, petroleum-based jet fuel. United says it will use this biofuel on flights from Los Angeles. The refinery will use the Honeywell Green Jet process. All they say about the feedstock is that it will be using “non-edible natural oils [which is probably camelina] and agricultural wastes” but they claim the fuel will have ” at least a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions on a lifecycle basis” compared to conventional kerosene. Back in 2012 there was no mention of not competing with food crops, and in 2011 there was a flight using Solarzyme fuel of unknown source.    Click here to view full story…



China Eastern Airlines carries out test flight using palm oil – and is considering more

Date added: May 24, 2013

China Eastern Airlines has conducted a first test flight of a biofuel blend sourced and produced in China. The fuel was produced from used cooking oil and palm oil though one source says the fuel for this flight was just palm oil, as its processing is cheaper than processing used cooking oil. The use of palm oil as jet fuel has serious environmental problems, due to the loss of tropical rainforest to produce palm oil plantations, which leads to high carbon emissions. The destruction of rainforest causes substantial biodiversity loss. The use of palm oil for jet fuel also conflicts with food use of palm oil. Palm oil is an inappropriate fuel for aviation, and more responsible airlines have not used it. For any biofuel to be environmentally sustainable they would need to be produced from feedstocks that have no impact on biodiversity, land and water use – as well as having lower lifetime carbon emissions. The airline says, in one report, that it will begin to fly commercial services on 100% biofuels. Until now biofuels have been used in combination with traditional jet fuel from fossil sources. China Eastern has not yet released a timetable of when the commercial services will begin.

Click here to view full story…





and a bit of history:

New study predicts future consequences of a global biofuels program

23.10.2009   (EurekAlert)

Carbon emissions caused by the displacement of food crops and pastures may be
twice as much as those from lands devoted to biofuels production


A report examining the impact of a global biofuels program on greenhouse gas
emissions during the 21st century has found that carbon loss stemming from the
displacement of food crops and pastures for biofuels crops may be twice as much
as the CO2 emissions from land dedicated to biofuels production

The study, led by Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) senior scientist Jerry Melillo,
also predicts that increased fertilizer use for biofuels production will cause
nitrous oxide emissions (N2O) to become more important than carbon losses, in
terms of warming potential, by the end of the century.

Using a global modeling system that links economic and biogeochemistry data,
Melillo, MBL research associate David Kicklighter, and their colleagues examined
the effects of direct and indirect land-use on greenhouse gas emissions as the
production of biofuels increases over this century. They report their findings
in the October 22 issue of Science Express.

Direct land-use emissions are generated from land committed solely to bioenergy
production. Indirect land-use emissions occur when biofuels production on cropland
or pasture displaces agricultural activity to another location, causing additional
land-use changes and a net increase in carbon loss.

No major countries currently include carbon emissions from biofuel-related land-use
changes in their carbon loss accounting and there is concern about the practicality
of including such losses in a system designed to reduce fossil-fuel emissions.
Moreover, methods to assess indirect land-use emissions are controversial. All
quantitative analyses to date have either ignored indirect emissions altogether,
considered those associated from crop displacement from a limited area, confused
indirect emissions with direct or general land-use emissions, or developed estimates
based on a static framework of today’s economy.

Using a modeling system that integrates global land-use change driven by multiple
demands for land and that includes dynamic greenhouse-gas accounting, Melillo
and his colleagues factored in a full suite of variables, including the potential
of net carbon uptake from enhanced land management, N2O emissions from the increased use of fertilizer, environmental effects on carbon storage, and the economics
of land conversion.

“Our analysis, which we think is the most comprehensive to date, shows that direct
and indirect land-use changes associated with an aggressive global biofuels program
have the potential to release large quantities of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere,”
says Melillo.

Melillo and his colleagues simulated two global land-use scenarios in the study.
In Case 1, natural areas are converted to meet increased demand for biofuels
production land. In Case 2, there is less willingness to convert land and existing
managed land is used more intensely. Both scenarios are linked to a global climate
policy that would control greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel sources to
stabilize CO2 concentrations at 550 parts per million, a target often talked about
in climate policy discussions. Under such a climate policy, fossil fuel use would
become more expensive and the introduction of biofuels would accelerate, ultimately
increasing the size of the biofuels industry and causing additional effects on
land use, land prices, and food and forestry production and prices.

The model predicts that, in both scenarios, land devoted to biofuels will become
greater than the total area currently devoted to crops by the end of the 21st
century. Case 1 will result in more carbon loss than Case 2, especially at mid-century.
In addition, indirect land use will be responsible for substantially greater carbon
losses (up to twice as much) than direct land use.

“Large greenhouse gas emissions from these indirect land-use changes are unintended
consequences of a global biofuels program; consequences that add to the climate-change
problem rather than helping to solve it,” says Melillo “As our analysis shows,
these unintended consequences are largest when the clearing of forests is involved.”

In their model, Melillo and his colleagues also simulated N2O emissions from
the additional fertilizer that will be required to grow biofuel crops in the future.
They found that over the century, N2O emissions will surpass CO2 in terms of warming
potential. By 2100, Melillo and his team estimate that in both study scenarios,
biofuels production will account for more than half of the total N2O emissions
from fertilizer. “Best practices for the use of nitrogen fertilizer, such as synchronizing
fertilizer application with plant demand, can reduce N2O emissions associated
with biofuels production,” the scientists say.


see also

“Biofuel production can be climate-friendly says U.N.E.P.”

What the UNEP report actually says is this:

“Increased biofuel production is expected to have large impacts on biological
diversity in the coming decades, mostly as a result of habitat loss, increased
invasive species and nutrient pollution.”

“Clearing the natural vegetation mobilises the stocked carbon and may lead to
a carbon debt, which could render the overall GHG mitigation effect of biofuels
questionable for the following decades.”

“there is a potential risk for competition between food and fuel, and consequences
on food prices as a result.”

“For net consuming regions like the EU and countries like Germany, models have
shown that an increased use of biofuels would lead to an overall increase in absolute
global cropland requirements. This implies that if biofuels are produced on existing
cropland, other production – in particular for serving the growing food demand
beyond the capacities to increase yields – will be displaced to other areas (“indirect
land use”). As long as the global cropland required for agricultural based consumption
grows, displacement effects, land conversion and related direct and indirect impacts
may not be avoided through selected production standards for biofuels.”

“Clearing the natural vegetation mobilises the stocked carbon and may lead to
a carbon debt, which could render the overall GHG mitigation effect of biofuels
questionable for the following decades.

The total CO2 emissions from 10% of the global diesel and gasoline consumption
during 2030 was estimated at 0.84 Gt CO2, of which biofuels could substitute 0.17
to 0.76 Gt CO2 (20-90%), whereas the annual CO2 emissions from direct land conversion
alone are estimated to be in the range of 0.75 to 1.83 Gt CO2.”

You can read the report at: