Is Europe’s Biodiesel Industry in Jeopardy?

Joanna Schroeder

Europe’s $13 billion biodiesel industry could be in jeopardy according to an article published by Reuters that claims that the European Union (EU) plans to tackle unwanted side effects of biofuel production. The turn-about in support of biodiesel has been in part spurred by fear over climate change and several recent papers leaked from the European Commission that purport that biodiesel’s indirect impacts cancel out the majority of its benefits.

As the EU looks to increase current biodiesel use from 3 percent to 10 percent by 2020, they are also concerned that such a move would increase environmental damage rather than reduce environmental concerns. Their own analysis concludes that a 10 percent biodiesel mandate could lead to “an indirect one-off release of around 1,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide — more than twice the annual emissions of Germany.” In addition, one report concludes that more use of biofuels could “squeeze food supplies and increase global hunger.”

The studies to which Reuters is referring have not been released by the European Commission and the authors surmise it is because it would “have significant implications for the existing EU biodiesel industry.”

These negative impacts could include a reduction of investments in plants and infrastructure. It could also cause a reduction of biodiesel use, rather than what the country has been aiming for since 2003, an increase in biodiesel use.

One of the biggest concerns with increased biofuels use is indirect land use change (ILUC) a proposed theory that the pro-biofuels groups have been trying to fight for several years. The ILUC argues that more biofuel production (tied to biofuel mandates) will cause trees to be cut down in other areas, increasing carbon and if the crop competes for “food” causing hunger in other areas of the world.  In other words, the “indirect effects” of biofuel production outweigh the positive benefits of the fuel.

“The land use change effects make nearly half of the expected gains of shifting from fossil fuels to renewable biofuels disappear,” said a third report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) for the EU.

A fourth leaked document concluded biodiesel from Asian palm oil, South American soy beans, and EU rapeseed all had a bigger overall climate impact than conventional diesel.

The hope of the European biodiesel industry is that since the science is still young and inconclusive, the country should not pass legislation based on its deductions and theories.

This entire story reads like a “biodiesel conspiracy” theory- and who doesn’t love a little drama? It will be interesting to see if the as-of-now unreleased reports will in fact be released by the EU, and if so, what type of tail-spin the reports could cause.

Biodiesel, biofuels, Indirect Land Use, International, Opinion