France to review biofuel use on environment worries

PARIS (Reuters) - France is envisaging changing its policy on the use of biofuels after doubts were expressed on the environmental impact of so-called “green fuels,” the Secretary of State for Environment said on Tuesday.

Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet said the government had asked the French agency for environment and energy ADEME to review the technology with a focus on the second generation of biofuels, mostly made of plant waste instead of grains and vegetable oils.

“France’s policy on this matter is empowered to be reshaped after ADEME’s report,” she said at a briefing organized by the European American press club in Paris.

France has become one of the largest producers of biofuels in Europe after it set an ambitious policy that anticipates by two years the EU target on the blending of biofuels with standard fuels.

To reach its incorporation objectives -- 7 percent of all fuels by 2010, and 10 percent by 2015 -- France put in place a system of quotas benefiting from reduced taxes in a bid to make them competitive compared to standard fuels.

The policy prompted many companies to invest in the sector, building ethanol and biodiesel plants across the country.


But concern has since risen on whether biofuels -- once hailed as a way of reducing the world’s reliance on crude oil and slowing climate change -- really help cut greenhouse gas emissions and or if they may contribute to rising food prices.

Several international reports cast doubts on the final environmental impact of biofuels taking account of the energy spent to grow the plants, the chemical products used to boost yields and the water they consume.

“This rise of different point of views has disconcerted people,” Kosciusko-Morizet said.

“We wonder if the discourse that says that we should go straight to the second generation makes sense,” she said.

Scientists and producers agree that the second generation biofuels, which involve the break-down of non-edible crops and even municipal waste by enzymes to create liquid motor fuel, will be more effective against climate change.

But the technology is not ready yet and it may be years before it becomes sustainable and profitable.

Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; editing by Michael Roddy