Attempts by EU lawmakers to qualify a wider range of biofuel feedstocks for the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) will increase emissions compared to the European Commission’s original proposal, according to a new study.
Negotiations are currently underway to conclude the “ReFuelEU Aviation” proposal, which will require planes landing at European airports to raise a set percentage of SAF mixed with kerosene.
The purpose of the regulations is to reduce aviation emissions by gradually replacing fossil kerosene with certain biofuels and green electrofuels derived from hydrogen. between 2025 and 2050.
But EU institutions are divided over which biofuel feedstocks should be given the green light for SAF status.
A new report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a green mobility NGO, encourages lawmakers to limit permitted raw materials to those listed under Annex IX of the European Renewable Energy Directive – such as algae, bio-waste, straw and biomass residues from forestry.
The ICCT would also like to see a hard cap on the inclusion of biofuels derived from used cooking oil and certain animal fats in the ReFuelEU Aviation text.
According to the report, proposals to extend SAF biofuels beyond the Annex IX list would see feedstocks “associated with rising food prices and indirect emissions” used to meet SAF targets.
“Almost all raw materials that would be eligible for the SAF definition with the changes made by the European Parliament and the Council to the SAF definition are used in food and feed or carry a risk of fraud,” the report says.
The use of these materials for the production of biofuels “would likely lead to significant impacts on food prices, fraud and land use change”, the report continues, noting that these feedstocks currently have other uses that will need to be replaced.
While the European Parliament and EU countries have proposed expanding the definition of SAF, MEPs have drawn up a more restricted list of permitted raw materials.
“Parliament’s efforts to exclude certain problematic raw materials, namely cover crops, palm and soy products, and soap paste and its derivatives, would be a step towards improving climate impact of European jet fuel,” said Chelsea Baldino, one of the report’s authors. told EURACTIV.
“However, many problematic raw materials would remain, such as category 3 animal fats,” she added, referring to edible animal by-products, although not generally consumed in Europe for cultural reasons.
According to amendments tabled by the Council of the EU, all biofuel feedstocks would be allowed, with the exception of food and feed crops, although those not listed in Annex IX of the Renewable Energy Directive be capped at 3%.
Parliament has proposed a phase-out date of 2034 for all biofuels not derived from Annex IX feedstocks.
Renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBO)
According to Parliament’s position, green fuels such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels from green electricity, as well as electricity from renewable sources, would also count towards SAF targets.
Hydrogen and electric aircraft are largely experimental at present, although they are expected to increase in number from the middle of the next decade as the technology matures.
Although there is already a sub-target for synthetic fuels (also called electrofuels or power-to-liquid) in the ReFuelEU text, this excludes hydrogen and electricity.
If the definition of SAF is widened to include these fuels – known in EU jargon as “renewable fuels of non-biological origin” or “RFNBO” – the sub-target should be increased, recommends ICCT . Parliament is pushing for a sub-target of 50% RFNBO by 2050, a significant increase from the Council and Commission position of 28%.
However, this increased objective should only be applied if the principle of “additionality” is maintained, argues the ICCT.
In 2018, lawmakers proposed an “additionality” law that would require new renewable energy sources to be used in the production of green hydrogen.
This obligation aims to ensure that the production of green hydrogen does not monopolize scarce renewable energy, forcing other industries to use fossil electricity.
Parliament last week passed an amendment to the EU’s renewable energy directive that weakens the additionality law, allowing more flexibility in how green hydrogen and e-fuels are produced.
It remains to be seen whether the additionality requirements will be changed in the final version of the directive, as the final text will have to be approved by both the Parliament and the Council of the EU, which represents the 27 member states of the EU. EU.
The Council’s position also leaves the door open to “carbon-free fuels”, made from hydrogen produced from natural gas or coal, known as “blue hydrogen”.
While blue hydrogen is produced with fossil fuels, the resulting CO2 is trapped rather than released into the atmosphere, in a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS).
But the ICCT believes that any inclusion of low-carbon fuels in the dossier would undermine the regulations, as CCS technology is not yet widely available.
Food prices and demand for biofuels
The trade association European Biodiesel Board (EBB) criticized the ICCT report, saying the general claim that feedstocks outside of Schedule IX are problematic is false.
In fact, there is “enormous potential” for other wastes and residues to reduce emissions, André Paula Santos, EBB’s public affairs director, told EURACTIV.
The EBB also disputed the claim that broadening the definition of SAF would affect food prices. Paula Santos pointed out a 2020 study carried out by the European Commission which found that “no correlation has been observed between food prices and demand for biofuels” in recent years.
“Any impact on food prices is small compared to other global food market dynamics,” the report said.
The EBB supports the Council’s position, as it provides the broadest SAF definition.
But another industry group, the European Waste-Based and Advanced Biofuels Association (EWABA), backs ICCT calls for a hard cap on the use of biofuels derived from used cooking oil and some animal fats in airplanes.
EWABA has long warned that the Commission’s SAF proposals will monopolize fatty waste for aviation, to the detriment of other modes of transport, such as road transport and maritime transport.
However, the trade association supports expanding the SAF definition alongside the introduction of the strict limitation. This, they say, will reduce aviation’s reliance on used cooking oil and Category 1 and 2 animal fats for SAF production.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]