Vegetable oils biofuels should be phased out by 2020 – their CO2 emissions are higher than fossil diesel

The aviation industry has great hopes – unjustifiably – that it will be able to magically locate low carbon “green” fuels in future, that will emit less carbon per litre than fossil jet fuel. Various niche plant oils have been tried, and quietly dropped (the inedible ones that could grow on soils not good enough for human crops are not commercially viable). So far it is not thought that the industry would be so bold as to try to claim use of plant oils like palm oil, rapeseed oil or soya oil could make suitable “sustainable” jet fuels, knowing the bad publicity of burning oils that compete with human food, in jet engines. But plant oils are used in immense amounts as biodiesel for cars and vans, including in Europe. Figures show that this, rather than cutting the overall CO2 emissions (which was the intention by the EU) in practice ends in higher lifecycle emissions than fossil based fuels. On average, biodiesel from virgin vegetable oil leads to around 80% higher CO2 emissions than the fossil diesel. Palm oil has the highest greenhouse gas emissions – about 300% those of fossil diesel – because of deforestation [including habitat and wildlife loss] and peatland drainage needed to set up the plantations, in places like Indonesia. In 2015 46% of all palm oil imported into the EU was burned in vehicles as biodiesel (45% as human or animal food, and 9% burned for electricity or heat.)



Phase out vegetable oils biofuels by 2020, environment MEPs tell Commission

The environment committee of the European Parliament today adopted a resolution urging the European Commission to phase out the use of vegetable oils for biofuels, preferably by 2020. All political groups agreed on the need to stop incentives to biofuels that cause deforestation and peatland drainage, which includes a range of feedstocks such as palm oil, soy and rapeseed.

The resolution was on an own-initiative report on palm oil and deforestation.

Cristina Mestre, biofuels officer of Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “ We welcome the European Parliament’s call to end support for biodiesel made from vegetable oils. These fuels have higher emissions than regular diesel and cause deforestation and peatland drainage. Truly sustainable advanced biofuels can only have a chance if the European Commission stops promoting cheap, polluting biodiesel.”

On average, biodiesel from virgin vegetable oil leads to around 80% higher emissions than the fossil diesel it replaces.

This is based on biodiesel’s lifecycle emissions, which include land-use change emissions (ILUC). ILUC occurs when new or existing cropland is used for biofuel feedstock production, thereby causing carbon sinks to be opened. [This means when land that has been used to grow crops for human or animal food is converted to grow biofuel crops, more land needs to be located to grow those crops. Often this means clearing land that is natural habitat, including forest. Forests store a lot of carbon, so their loss causes not only loss of wildlife but also more CO2 emissions.  AW comment].

In 2015, biodiesel was the most popular biofuel in Europe with a market share of 80%, mainly made from palm oil, rapeseed and soy.

Of all the sources of biofuel for transport, palm oil has the highest GHG emissions – 303% of the emissions of fossil diesel. Expansion of palm production incentivised by usage of this oil for biodiesel causes deforestation and peatland drainage, mainly in Southeast Asia but also in Latin America and Africa.

Motorists are the top consumers of palm oil in Europe, according to figures obtained by T&E. In 2015, 46% of all the palm oil used in Europe ended up in the tanks of cars and trucks.

Cristina Mestre concluded: “Vegetable oils such as palm oil, rapeseed and soy work as substitutes for each other. Banning palm oil in biodiesel is not the solution because it will simply be replaced by rapeseed or soy which also produce higher emissions than regular diesel because of indirect impacts, The only real solution is to stop all incentives that artificially create demand for vegetable oils in the transport sector.”



Drivers are the top consumers of palm oil in Europe – 2015 figures

November 25, 2016

(Transport & Environment)


Despite all the glaring evidence proving that palm-oil biodiesel is three times more polluting than fossil diesel, European transport still keeps burning more and more palm oil to power its diesel cars and trucks. 2015 data from OILWORLD, industry’s reference for vegetable oils market analysis, shows a 3% increase in the use of palm oil for biodiesel. European biodiesel is now the main end product of imported palm oil, reaching an all-time-high share of 46%. This makes drivers the leading (albeit unaware) consumers of palm oil in Europe.

Biodiesel made from virgin vegetable oil is the most popular biofuel in the European market with a market share of 80% in 2015. Of all biodiesel, palm oil is the cheapest (1) and has the highest greenhouse gas emissions – three times worse for the climate than fossil diesel. This is because palm expansion drives deforestation and peatland drainage in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. Palm-oil biodiesel accounted for 32% of biodiesel, and 2% of all diesel burned in Europe last year, a fact few European drivers know when filling up their vehicles.

Jori Sihvonen, biofuels officer at Transport & Environment (T&E), said: “Citizens can do their best to avoid palm oil in their food and cosmetics. But the EU biofuels rule force them to burn palm oil in their cars, almost always without their knowledge. With this law, the Commission is failing the environment while deceiving consumers trying to do their best for the planet”.

If the world were to follow Europe’s current thirst for palm oil biodiesel, 4,300,000 hectares of land in the tropics would be needed to quench it. That area is equal to the remaining rainforests on peatlands of Borneo, Sumatra and peninsular Malaysia (2).

The European Commission is about to propose the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), which will determine whether biofuels should keep receiving public support after 2020. According to the leaked draft proposal, the Commission plans to keep supporting land-based biofuels with a volume target of 3.8% of total transport fuels in 2030 – a tiny reduction from the 4.9% biofuels share in transport achieved already in 2014. The leaked biofuel plan contradicts the Commission’s own Strategy for Low Emission Mobility published last July, which promised a ‘phaseout of food-based biofuels’.

Jori Sihvonen concluded: “If the world consumes as much palm oil biodiesel as Europe does, it will be game over for the world’s rainforests. We need to stop this biodiesel madness and the best place to start is where all began: Europe. We therefore urge the Commission to phase out land-based biodiesel by 2025 and all land-based biofuels by 2030.”