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High Potential Seen for Waste-Based Biofuels

Energy systems
| 26.02.2014

Europe has a significant untapped potential for converting wastes from farming, forestry, industry and households to advanced low-carbon biofuels, but only if it sets a strong sustainability framework and ambitious decarbonisation targets for transport fuels in 2030, finds a new report entitled “Wasted: Europe’s Untapped Resource.

The project, supported by a coalition of technology innovators and green NGOs, was convened by the ECF. The study found that if all sustainable waste from farms, forests, households and industry were used for transport fuels, there could be sufficient fuel to displace about 37 million tonnes of oil annually by 2030. To put this in context, this technical potential would be equal to 16 per cent of road transport fuel demand in 2030.

“Even when taking account of possible indirect emissions, alternative fuels from wastes and residues offer real and substantial carbon savings,” said Chris Malins who led the analysis for the International Council on Clean Transportation. “The resource is available, and the technology exists – the challenge now is for Europe to put a policy framework in place that allows rapid investment.”

Scaling up the industry to this highest technical potential could create up to 300,000 direct jobs across Europe in construction, refining and waste collection between now and 2030 (not including indirect employment impacts). It could also provide an alternative to declining fossil fuel reserves and significantly cut Europe’s growing transport emissions, which are destined to become the single biggest source of CO2 by 2030.

EU policy uncertainty, especially around the decarbonisation of transport fuels, is blocking these innovations from reaching their full potential, says “Wasted: Europe’s Untapped Resource”.

Our analysis indicates that once deployed at scale, advanced biofuels from agricultural and forest residue feedstocks would require little or only a modest additional incentive to stimulate production at prices comparable to that of current crop-fuelled technologies.
David Turley, lead of the economic analysis, UK research consultancy NNFCC

“Today in Italy, we are already operating the most advanced and sustainable technology for advanced biofuels, developed after years of industrial research. The industry is ready and willing to invest to unlock the potential of advanced biofuels, but the recent political debate has created extreme uncertainty. Europe must refocus its attention on the need to decarbonise transport, where advanced biofuels can play a prominent role.” Piero Cavigliasso, Director of Institutional Relations and Public Funding, Biochemtex


“It is crucial that Europe, to maintain its role as a global leader in the fight against climate change and to retain a strong manufacturing base, provide a secure investment future for diverse, sustainable energy options. With increased policy certainty come new opportunities for innovative solutions that will help meet Europe’s energy challenges.” Freya Burton, Director Communications, LanzaTech


 “It is not sufficient for the EU to declare it wants advanced biofuels. It needs to take bold action that effectively supports their market deployment by 2020 and beyond. The environmental and socio-economic potential of advanced biofuels is too great to take the risk of letting investments go outside Europe where policy frameworks are more favourable. No action would simply mean increasing European energy dependence and impeding the decarbonisation of its transport sector.” Thomas Nagy, Executive Vice-President, Novozymes

Transport & Environment (also on behalf of BirdLife Europe, the European Environmental Bureau and WWF) :

“This study shows that with solid environmental safeguards, biofuels produced from waste can deliver real CO2 savings and reduce Europe’s addiction to ever-dirtier oil. But, to unleash the full potential of this innovation, Europe requires ambitious decarbonisation targets for transport fuels by 2030 and a revision of its biofuels policy before 2020. Policy certainty is what better biofuels need.” Pietro Caloprisco, clean fuels officer at T&E


“UPM will open the world’s first biorefinery producing wood-based renewable diesel at commercial scale this summer, and our annual production will be 100,000 tons. Such investments make the EU’s bioeconomy real, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offer jobs and growth. A stable policy framework is extremely important to ensure further investments in advanced biofuels. We call for a strong investment signal from the EU member states and the Parliament.” Marko Janhunen, Vice President Stakeholder Relations, UPM Biorefining


“Our analysis indicates that once deployed at scale, advanced biofuels from agricultural and forest residue feedstocks would require little or only a modest additional incentive to stimulate production at prices comparable to that of current crop-fuelled technologies.  Advanced fuels derived from municipal waste streams are particularly interesting, capable of delivering biofuels at lower cost than current technologies, though requiring added stimulus to compensate for the fossil co-product fuel.” David Turley, NNFCC

Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP):

It is clear that a significant potential exists for using wastes and residues to deliver low carbon advanced biofuels. With a shared resource base between energy and other uses, the future bioeconomy relies on our ability to take a more strategic approach to the use of biomass. Setting sustainability standards is a key step in unlocking the real potential that exists from waste and residue resources.”  David Baldock, Executive Director, IEEP

Notes to the Editor

  • The research in this project was conducted by the International Council for Clean Transportation and the NNFCC, and it was reviewed by the Institute for European Environmental Policy.
  • The project was supported by the following organizations: Biochemtex, Birdlife Europe, British Airways, European Climate Foundation, the European Environmental Bureau, European Waste to Advanced Biofuels Association, Institute for European Environmental Policy, LanzaTech, Novozymes, Petrotec, Transport & Environment, UPM, Virgin Atlantic Airways, WWF.