European Parliament votes to cap crop-based biofuels

By Erin Voegele | September 11, 2013

The European Parliament voted on draft legislation Sept. 11, calling for a cap on first-generation biofuels and a swift transition second-generation renewable fuels. The Renewable Energy Association said the series of tight votes will prolong instability in biofuel policy.

A press release published by the European Commission specifies the Members of European Parliament (MEPs) voted to place a 6 percent cap on first-generation biofuels used to meet renewable transportation goals through 2020. The Renewable Energy Directive requires renewable energy to account for at least 10 percent of transportation fuel by 2020.

According to the REA, the 6 percent cap is higher than the 5.5 percent cap the Environment Committee proposed, but lower than the 8 percent the biofuels industry lobbied for. A specific 2.5 percent target for advanced biofuels, double-counting for biofuels made from cooking oil and tallow and a 7.5 percent limit on ethanol in gasoline blends were also approved, said the REA in a statement. In addition, the MEPs voted to keep accounting for indirect land use change (ILUC) factors.

"I welcome the Parliament vote in favor of correct accounting of greenhouse gas emissions including indirect land use change and in favor of a reasonable cap on first generation biofuels. This is an important signal that support should be focused on advanced biofuels from 2020. Taking indirect land use change into account is important for the integrity of the EU climate change policy", said lead MEP Corinne Lepage (ALDE, FR) after amendments to the draft legislation were approved with 356 votes in favour to 327 against and 14 abstentions. “I regret however that the Parliament did not give a negotiation mandate that would have allowed the file to be concluded without further delay in order to give industry certainty regarding its investments.”

A statement issued by the parliament explains that Lepage was two votes short of receiving a mandate to negotiate with member states, who will now seek a common position of their own. “If different to parliament’s first reading text, a second reading will be required,” said the European Parliament in a press release. In effect, a final decision on the matter could be postponed until next year.

Clare Wenner, head of renewable transport at the REA said the future investments in the biofuels industry are likely to remain on hold following the vote, which introduces a new level of procedural complexity into the ILUC policy situation. “The 6 percent overall cap is too tight and the REA continues to oppose the introduction of ILUC factors until there is convincing scientific evidence that biofuels should be singled out in this way. There are some bright spots, though, such as the separate target for advanced biofuels and the continuation of double counting for biofuels made from used cooking oil,” Wenner continued. “Today’s vote puts a particular responsibility on the European Member States in the Council, including our own government, to reach conclusions that will allow the U.K. biofuels industry to move forward with confidence.”

ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association, said that the vote has put the future of jobs and growth for the biofuels industry under pressure. “It is disappointing to see that the European Parliament has decided to significantly reduce the market for conventional biofuels in Europe,” said Rob Vierhout, secretary general at ePURE. “At a time when we need to boost our economy it is difficult to see why MEPs agree to curtail jobs and investment in a sector that helps Europe to grow the production of clean and sustainable fuels.”