RPT-Former NATO head urges EU to set 2030 biofuel target for energy security

(Repeats Feb 25 story to media, no changes to text)

* EU policy-makers had to backtrack on biofuel policy

* Industry says advanced biofuels can be competitive

* European Commission has no comment on new targets

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged the European Union on Thursday to get 5 percent of road transport fuels from sustainable biofuels by 2030 to cut the bloc’s reliance on imported oil and beef up its energy security.

The use of biofuels has proved controversial in the European Union as first-generation fuels made from food crops were blamed for food price inflation and the clearance of environmentally-sensitive wildlife habitats.

And competition from cheap oil has added to the pressure on the advanced biofuel industry, which so far has only a non-binding 2020 EU target of 0.5 percent to guide investment.

“Even in the case that biofuel might be more expensive, it’s still worth developing. When it comes to energy security, it’s not only a question of price. Freedom and security is priceless,” Rasmussen told Reuters.

Rasmussen, who was prime minister of Denmark before he joined NATO, now heads his own geopolitical consultancy, which is working with the Danish biofuel industry.

He said a target was needed to spur on investment and biofuel refiners were moving from using food crops to advanced biofuels made from waste wood and other waste plant matter.

Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization until October 2014, Rasmussen said he took part in debate at NATO on the role of biofuels in energy security following the 2009 gas crisis when Russia cut off gas to Kiev with a knock-on impact on EU supplies.

Whereas the United States has achieved energy independence, Europe depends on imported oil and gas, around a third of which comes from Russia, which is still arguing with Ukraine over gas pricing.

Meanwhile, the European Commission, under pressure over the criticisms that biofuels stoked food price inflation and could do more environmental harm than good if they lead to the destruction of precious wildlife habitats, was forced to propose a cap on biofuels made from corn and other food crops.

It has not proposed any biofuel target, just an overall renewable goal in an ongoing debate to set 2030 climate and energy targets to succeed 2020 policy.

Peder Holk Nielsen, chief executive of Novozymes, a supplier of enzymes for bioethanol, said he would prefer a 10 percent 2030 target, but thought 5 percent was pragmatic.

Campaign group the International Council on Clean Transportation estimates sustainable biofuel could displace up to 16 percent of conventional road transport fuels in the EU by 2030.

Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, who joined in a debate on biofuels with Rasmussen in Brussels on Thursday did not comment on any 2030 biofuels target, saying only that the decarbonisation of transport was a complex issue.

Some environmental campaigners have been pushing for electrification of vehicles and fuel sustainability criteria, rather than biofuel targets.

Campaign group Transport and Environment said it was better to focus on quality rather than quantity. (Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Greg Mahlich)