BRUSSELS Europe is likely to pump out increasing amounts of bioethanol over the next 10 years, posting gradual annual output rises as an EU-imposed deadline nears for boosting renewable energy, an industry official said on Monday.
While wide discrepancies remain among the European Union's 27 countries in terms of their bioethanol industries, overall production has jumped exponentially since the EU launched its first biofuels directive with renewables targets in 2003.
"Last year we saw a strong increase in output again, around 60 percent higher and mainly due to France and its very ambitious target," said Rob Vierhout, secretary-general of EU bioethanol fuel association eBio, based in Brussels.
Last year, EU producers turned out 2.82 billion liters of bioethanol, up from 1.80 billion in 2007. Back in 2004, EU output was just 528 million liters, industry figures show.
France has become the EU's top producer, followed by Germany and Spain and then, much further behind, by Poland and Hungary.
"In terms of production, the picture remains good and will remain so for the next decade," Vierhout said, adding output rises were unlikely to be as accentuated as in previous years.
Grains, usually wheat, are the dominant raw materials used in Europe to make bioethanol, providing starch to be broken down for fermentation, although sugar beet, juice and molasses, as well as ligno-cellulose can also be found.
In 2007, EU leaders agreed a binding target of 10 percent for renewable energy in transport, as part of an overall 20 percent renewable energy target by 2020.
Then, last year, the European Commission published a draft renewable energy directive to put the political agreement into legal form, which includes a set of sustainability criteria that biofuels must meet to be counted toward the target.
The directive is still being assessed and reviewed by the European Parliament and EU member states. All countries must now roll out detailed road maps to show to the European Commission -- the EU's executive arm and chief regulator -- how they plan to reach their national targets for green energy.
"Assuming that member states do what they promise to do, we should have a constant increase in production," Vierhout said.
"The 10 percent renewables by 2020, which is a minimum, only kicks in from 2020. It's only mandatory from then ... but the Commission will not accept that member states do nothing until 2019. That's why we need national action plans," he said.
(Editing by James Jukwey)