21 Jul 2020

Biofuels

The introduction of the UK Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation in 2008 and the EU Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives in 2009 established levels for the first time on the use of renewable fuels in road fuel. 

The introduction of the UK Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation in 2008 and the EU Renewable Energy and Fuel Quality Directives in 2009 established levels for the first time on the use of renewable fuels in road fuel. 

Of significant importance to the agricultural sector is the introduction of a cap on crop-based biofuels of 4% in 2018, reducing annually from 2021 to reach 3% in 2026 and 2% in 2032. This low level is to push the use of waste derived biofuels instead, and is significantly below the EU crop cap of 7% which was set under the EU Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) Directive, and will be going down to 3.8% in 2032 under the new version of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II).

The Indirect Land Use Change Directive (ILUC) came into force in 2015, and is driven by the principle that non-food demand for raw materials (eg. crops) does not replace existing food and feed demand. Instead it simply displaces it, thereby requiring additional land to be cultivated and cropped to meet total demand. In some instances it is argued this additional cultivated land is of much higher environmental benefit and the carbon savings from the production of biofuels over conventional fuels is less than the carbon emissions generated from the cropping of this additional land. In order for the crop to be accepted as from a renewable source it needs to be certified as such, and in the UK this is almost entirely carried out through EU approved voluntary schemes such as that run by Red Tractor, or the ISCC (International Sustainability and Carbon Certification).

Whilst the introduction of renewable fuel legislation has been an important driver in the creation of increased demand for bioethanol and biodiesel, biofuels continue to divide opinion. The impact of non-food demand on the food and feed market, particularly in terms of price and availability, has been strongly debated in recent years. However the fact that the by-products of distilling (for bioethanol) and oilseed crushing (for biodiesel) are valuable sources of protein for animal feed merits wider public recognition as these are important in the food and feed chain. If production of these by-products were to reduce it is likely demand for imported protein sources such as soya bean would increase.