* Some biofuels better than others
* Most polluting biofuel is biodiesel from vegetable oils
* Ethanol from sugar, maize best performing crop-based fuels
By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS, July 10 New research carried out for
the European Commission shows some crop-based biofuels meant to
protect the environment are up to twice as polluting as
conventional fossil fuels, a draft seen by Reuters shows.
The study by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the
Commission's in-house research body, confirms the findings of
earlier EU studies that using biodiesel made from crops such as
rapeseed as transport fuel does the climate more harm than good.
The report will stoke the debate on proposals to weaken an
existing EU biofuel target by limiting the use of so-called
first-generation biofuels that compete with food crops.
Members of the European Parliament will hold a committee
vote on Thursday on the Commission's proposal to limit
crop-based biofuels to 5 percent of energy consumption in
transport, compared with an overall target to get 10 percent of
transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020.
The 10 percent target was introduced in 2008 and was
expected to be chiefly met with crop-based biofuels. Since then,
science has moved on, and a series of studies has underlined the
potential environmental damage from some biofuels.
The latest JRC study, in contrast with previous studies
based on highly complex economic modelling, used historical data
to predict future shifts in land use as a result of using crops
to make fuel.
The study confirmed previous findings that fuels made from
cereals and sugar crops have much lower carbon emissions than
those from vegetable oils such as rapeseed oil, palm oil from
Malaysia or soyoil from the Americas.
Emissions from one litre of biodiesel made from imported
soyoil are equivalent to burning up to two litres of diesel from
fossil fuel, its data analysis found.
The reason some first-generation biofuels are considered a
problem is that they increase demand for crops, displacing food
production into new areas and forcing forest clearance and
draining of peatland. This displacement is known as ILUC
(indirect land-use change) and can result in enough carbon
emissions to cancel out any theoretical savings from biofuels.
While scientists agree that both methods still include many
uncertainties, the fact their results are broadly the same goes
some way to tackling arguments from biofuel refiners that there
is insufficient evidence to justify a policy change.
EU Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard and EU Energy
Commissioner Guenther Oettinger last year together announced the
proposed limit on first-generation biofuels in what was a major
Since then, Oettinger has said he is willing to be flexible
about the exact level. Some lawmakers are seeking to increase
the cap to 5.5 percent in Thursday's vote, while EU countries
such as France have called for a cap of around 7 percent to
protect existing investments.
After the committee vote, the European Parliament as a whole
will decide its final position later this year before
negotiations get underway with EU governments to finalise the
Biofuel producers have said the Commission's proposed cap is
below the level of existing production capacity in Europe and
would therefore result in plant closures and job loses.
Producers of bioethanol, which unlike biodiesel emerges
relatively unscathed from the EU studies, say a 5 percent limit
that fails to distinguish between the two would lock in the
dominance of biodiesel, which currently accounts for more than
two thirds of EU biofuel consumption.
Apart from being worse for the environment than fossil
fuels, another human cost of biofuels is the possibility of
adding to food price inflation.
The Commission proposal also includes ILUC factors to
estimate the indirect emissions of biofuels made from cereals,
sugars and oilseeds, but they carry no legal weight in a
watering-down of an earlier draft proposal.
The Commission does not comment on documents prior to their
(Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore; editing by Jane