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Estonia's ECA representative: Future of biofuels in the EU remains unclear

Keit Pentus-Rosimannus.
Keit Pentus-Rosimannus. Source: ERR

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) says it has identified three main problems in relation to the promotion of biofuels within the European Union, namely a less than stellar level of environmental friendliness, high production costs and a low availability of input materials, leading in some cases to imports from further afield.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) definition of biofuels is a "liquid, solid, or gaseous fuel produced by conversion of biomass such as bioethanol from sugar cane or corn, charcoal or woodchips, and biogas from anaerobic decomposition of wastes."

Keit Pentus-Rosimannus (pictured), Estonia's representative at the ECA, said: "The European Commission has worked on the assumption that biofuels will help to raise energy independence, but in actuality, dependence on other countries has increased – for instance as evidenced by the importing of used cooking oil from China and Malaysia."

Pentus-Rosimannus made her remarks in the context of an ECA special report, adding that: "The biofuels sector competes for raw materials with other areas, mainly the food sector, but also the cosmetics, pharmaceutical and bioplastic sectors. Compared with fossil fuels, however, biofuels have not become economically viable, due to their higher price."

The report stated that the environmental benefits of biofuels are also often overestimated.

This is partly because their production can ultimately involve tree-felling or competing with agricultural land for food production.

This raises an ethical question – whether the priority is food or fuel, Pentus-Rosimannus' line continued.

The EU also lacks a long-term comprehensive plan for the future of biofuel use, she said, and that plus frequent changes in policies and priorities on biofuels have served to lead to a certain reluctance on the part of investors, she went on.

The ascendancy of e-vehicles and plans to end the sale of new cars with petrol and diesel engines by 2035 also mean that biofuels' future in the EU road transport sector is short-lived, she added.

These factors combine to make the introduction of advanced biofuels slower than expected.

All EU countries have set mandatory targets for fuel suppliers to ensure that the share of renewable energy used in road and rail transport came to at least 10 percent by 2020, rising 14 percent by 2030

Estonian plus six other member states (namely Finland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Malta, Slovenia and Sweden) achieved their 10 percent target using biofuels alone, in 2020.

However, the majority of EU countries missed this target, it is reported.

This is all despite the €430 million invested by the EU into the development of biofuels, in the period 2014-2020 to research projects and to promote the introduction and adoption of biofuels.

Despite its name the ECA is not a court as such, but rather a professional external investigatory audit agency principally tasked with external oversight of the correct and effective implementation of the EU's budget.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte,  Mirjam Mäekivi

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