Biofuels, the EU does not have a map for development

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In the 2014-2020 programming period, the European Union allocated 430 million to research projects and the promotion of biofuels, but frequent changes in EU policies and priorities have made the sector unattractive and affected investor decisions . This is supported by the European Court of Auditors which dedicated a report to the topic of the development of biofuels as substitutes for fossil fuels in the Union. According to the Court, biofuels are not yet competitive, are not always environmentally friendly and their production is limited by problems of biomass availability. «With biofuels we aim to contribute to achieving the EU’s climate neutrality objectives and to strengthen the latter’s energy sovereignty – said Nikolaos Milionis, the member of the European Court of Auditors who directed the audit -. However, with the current biofuel policy, the EU is wandering without a map and runs the risk of not reaching its destination.”

The case of aviation fuels

The absence of a clear roadmap is a problem highlighted in particular by our auditors. An example is aviation: it is a difficult sector to electrify and therefore advanced biofuels could represent a good decarbonisation option. The new ReFuelEU Aviation regulation, adopted in 2023, set the required level of sustainable aviation fuels (Saf) – including biofuels – at 6% for 2030, i.e. around 2.76 million tonnes of oil equivalent but currently potential production capacity in the EU barely reaches a tenth of that figure. And then there is still no roadmap at EU level on how to accelerate production, unlike in the United States.

The future of biofuels is also very uncertain in the road transport sector: «The ambitious bet on electric cars and the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars scheduled for 2035 could mean that biofuels do not have a large-scale future scale in the EU road transport sector” reads a note from the Court.

Spread slower than expected

The diffusion of advanced biofuels is slower than expected: all EU countries have imposed obligations on fuel suppliers to ensure that the percentage of renewable energy is at least 10% in road transport sectors by 2020 and rail, and 14% across all transport sectors by 2030 but most EU countries (to name just a few: Greece, Poland, Romania, France and Spain) have not met their targets. «Biofuels are more expensive than fossil fuels and, consequently, are not yet economically sustainable – we read in the report -. Emission quotas are currently less expensive than the reduction of CO2 emissions achieved by using biofuels, which is not always favored by the budgetary policies of EU countries.”

Little availability of biomass

Then there is the issue of the limited availability of biomass. The European Commission expected to achieve increased energy independence thanks to biofuels but dependence on non-EU countries (e.g. imports of used cooking oil from China, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Indonesia) has actually increased dramatically due to the increasing demand for biomass over the years. «The problem – explain the authors of the report – is that the biofuel sector competes for raw materials with other sectors, in particular the food sector, but also that of cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and bioplastics».

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