No decision on ILUC factor at the meeting of the EU commissioners

ILUC in EuropeCan the lack of a decision within the ILUC debate at EU level be seen as a first success for the industry?

In my opinion, this result is a first positive signal for the European biofuels that one does not want to simply wave through the topic of the ILUC factor and that one takes the criticism of the industry very seriously. The background: At the meeting of EU commissioners held at the beginning of last week, the further handling of indirect land use changes in biofuels should be discussed. There was no final result.
What were the reasons for postponing the decision on the sustainability debate on biofuels, which can have an existential impact, especially for European biodiesel?

Controversial handling of ILUC concept for biofuels by EU commissioners

After everything that has reached the public, the majority of the 27 EU Commissioners (overview) against the further tightening of sustainability standards in the sustainability debate on biofuels. The IFPRI study from September 2009, which is the basis for the debate, was too theoretical in many respects and also contained numerous inaccuracies. The majority of EU commissioners therefore reject a drastic tightening of the carbon footprint using an ILUC factor.

Nevertheless, the topic of indirect land use changes in the further use of biofuels should be given greater consideration. The crucial question, however, is "how"? In particular, the EU Department of Energy and the departments for climate protection (climate action) and that for the environment met at the meeting of the EU Commissioners and represented different views on how to deal with the ILUC conflict.

Während Connie Hedegaard, EU Climate Commissioner for Climate Policy, and Janez Potocnik, EU Commissioner for the Environment, would like to maintain a strong integration of the ILUC concept, sees the EU Commissioner for Energy, Günther Oettinger, especially the negative effects of the ILUC concept and would like to keep the measures as low as possible.

The EU Commission now has to decide how the effects of indirect land use change (ILUC) through the cultivation of biomass for biofuel production should be priced into the climate balance for bioethanol & co.

What is ILUC and how does the ILUC factor work?

Indirect land use change (ILUC) is used when the additional cultivation of energy crops (rapeseed, palm oil, etc.) leads to a general increase in the required arable land and land has to be broken up elsewhere and incorporated into agricultural production. Indirectly, because it is assumed that for the cultivation of energy crops not only ecologically valuable areas (rainforest, bogs, wetlands, etc.) are directly converted, but also indirect shifts occur.

However, the direct land use changes of rainforests or peat bogs are already prohibited for the cultivation of energy crops and the production of biofuels in Europe, and an ILUC factor is also used to include the indirectly occurring changes in land use in the carbon footprint of biofuels.

The current discussion on the ILUC factor provides that a blanket value X, the ILUC factor, is added to the previous emissions balance of each biofuel. As the diagram shows, the absolute amount of CO2 released per reference unit (e.g. MJ of used biofuel or mileage) is significantly deteriorated by the use of an ILUC factor and leads to the majority of all biofuels used today missing the prescribed emission reduction targets from 2017 (minus 50 percent) or at the latest from 2018 (minus 60 percent).

Diagram ILUC factor values ​​biodiesel bioethanol
Impact of an ILUC factor on the carbon footprint of biodiesel and bioethanol in 2017

Harmonization of climate protection and environmental protection Conclusion on the ILUC factor

Successful overcoming ILUC threat is not yet a decision not to be made for the European biofuels industry, which is estimated at 13 billion euros and will secure numerous jobs, but the current interim situation should at least provide some relief for the companies and workers concerned. Since the publication of the IFPRI study, there has been concern that the biodiesel industry in Europe will be completely destroyed by the introduction of the ILUC factor. Biodiesel forms the vast majority of Europe's current biofuel supply.

Just 5 years ago, biofuels were hailed as the greatest hope and a major contribution to climate protection in the transport sector. A lot of money was put in hand and invested in numerous plants for the production of bioethanol and biodiesel in Europe. The IFRPI study and the possibly resulting ILUC factor threaten the coffin nail for an entire industry.

High sustainability standards for biofuels must be ensured, which nobody seriously contests! When learning from mistakes made (land use), one must not forget that the production of biofuels is already subject to the toughest sustainability criteria for all agricultural and forestry production worldwide. In my opinion, an excessive political clearcut with the help of an ILUC factor does much more harm than it does Europe. That is why I think it is very far-sighted and sensible that the EU Commission takes longer than originally planned to decide on the ILUC factor.

I believe that harmonizing climate protection and environmental protection is one of the key issues in the current climate and energy debate. Making the achievement of both goals economically and socially acceptable is a challenge that has far-reaching effects.

Europe and especially Germany are one of the most active forces worldwide in terms of climate protection and environmental protection and are comparatively committed to both ideals. The sustainability concepts for biofuels developed in the EU are therefore also role models for the further development of the industry worldwide. I find it very gratifying that we are not taking this political responsibility lightly and I hope that we will achieve an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable solution (sustainability triad) of the ILUC conflict.

4 comments on “No decision on ILUC factor at the meeting of the EU commissioners”

  1. Why don't we face the facts, put the coffin nail on them and train the biofuels industry on really environmentally friendly and sustainable technologies such as solar and wind energy. With photovoltaics you can 20 times more energy per area harvest as with energy crops:

    And that without any conflict with the local food supply or other material use of the valuable biomass, because this technology also works in the desert, without irrigation, fertilization, pesticides and monocultures. Even the Federal Environment Agency advises that Prefer material use of biomass over energetic and only use the waste that cannot be recycled for energy purposes.

  2. I think that this comparatively extreme view of the ideal energy transition in Germany (simply brush out bioenergy) is somewhat counterproductive and rather dreamy. Now I am also a bioenergy enthusiast and therefore I disagree with you here. Not that I have any objections to major projects (keyword Desertec), but I am above all for a decentralized and colorful energy transition. Everyone should support the energy projects and energy transition that they like best.

    For me, bioenergy is one of the main pillars of the energy turnaround, and that applies above all to the fuel and heating markets of the next 30 years. I would not want to formulate any visions for much longer-term periods, because until then so much will happen that we cannot imagine today. If our descendants are ready to source their entire energy needs in a climate-neutral, inexpensive and safe manner from solar and wind energy or even from fusion technology, then they will.

    To compare the energetic Area efficiency of photovoltaics and energy crop cultivation by the way, an article has also been published on BiomassMuse.

    For the Cascade use of biomass Incidentally, I am (1. food 2. material use 3. energetic use), but so far I don't know who of us likes to eat cellulose or how cellulose can be used in large quantities.

    Sorry for the somewhat bland answer, but the consideration of removing bioenergy from the energy transition on a blog with the slogan "Voice and heartbeat of the bioenergy" is either not very sensitive or wants to deliberately provoke. In the first case I say: "Please take a closer look at the blog ;-)" and in the second case "don't feel like trolls!"

  3. Dear Mr. Kirchner, I admit that my contribution was really very insensitive and thoughtless and I am pleased to see that you also deal with such critical voices. I used to work on the development of solar cells and now I am only interested in weighing up which technologies could best benefit us and our earth. So I happened to surf here and found her article on the ILUC topic very interesting.

    I think that every branch / technology has its right to exist as long as other people are taken into consideration and no irreparable damage is caused. At the moment I think that the irreparable damage caused by the excessive expansion of agriculture is greater than by the consumption of our fossil fuels, although we also have to differentiate. Different petroleum and natural gas products are not all to be valued equally, because there are also some that are associated with massive environmental degradation, such as oil sand mining and fracking. I would like if, similar to green electricity, there was also the possibility for consumers to choose which source they would like to support, for example to promote more expensive but more environmentally friendly technologies. I, who would currently prefer to fill up with E0 (100% petroleum, 0% food products), would also choose a fuel made from renewable raw materials, but only one that comes from organic farming, even if it should cost significantly more. I prefer to buy organic food and would do the same with agrofuels.

    I think the sustainability criteria are a way in the right direction, but they don't go far enough and they should be extended to all of agriculture. Then there would be no problem with indirect land use change. If food production had to meet the same sustainability criteria as bio-fuel production, we would have solved a large part of the problem. I find it absolutely unacceptable for the food industry to allow our most diverse natural resources to burn down and emitting enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, while on the other hand we tear our legs apart to save relatively small amounts of CO2 through biofuel. The problem lies in the lack of sustainability criteria in food production. When it comes to food, however, there is at least one option for consumers to choose whether to support these machinations, for example by buying conventional palm oil products - palm oil is now found in around every second food product - or whether by using organic products to support compliance with minimum standards in food production. In my opinion, both are important: minimum standards that are prescribed by politics and more extensive certificates for people who are willing to finance higher environmental protection standards. In the case of wood products, politics is also moving slowly and introducing minimum standards by introducing an import or trade ban for wood products without a certificate of origin in order to curb illegal logging in protected nature reserves.

    Another thing about multiple use:
    The Bioliq process, which is being developed at the KIT in Karlsruhe, is an option for producing liquid fuels of the second generation, i.e. from biomass that is not food. And even with such apparent waste as straw, the researchers are of the opinion that the material use should receive more attention (study: Final Report_BioCouple.pdf, because our capacities for biomass production on earth are very limited and the material use of the scarce petroleum products must also be absorbed (e.g. plastics, medicines, lubricants). Substances of significantly lower quality are suitable for energetic use than for material ones. In addition, the energy content of the biomass does not necessarily have to decrease after its material use, for example as timber, and a large part of the energy can still be obtained from the waste. For this reason, the energetic use of biomass should concentrate more on waste that cannot be used materially and less on high-quality raw materials. The same naturally also applies to petroleum; that's why you can not only complain about the bio-fuel industry for wasting high-quality raw materials. In my eyes, it is only wasteful when something is irretrievably lost. Nature also produces everything in abundance, but it is not a waste because it is in a cycle in which everything is recycled. A really sustainable and not wasteful agriculture would be one in which no animal and plant species would be eradicated, no soil erosion would take place and no finite raw materials such as fertilizers or fossil water would be consumed. If the production capacity should be enough for everyone, you can also fill your car with chocolates without it being an irretrievable waste. However, if the production capacity of biomass is no longer sufficient for material use, energy generation must switch to more space-efficient technologies, such as photovoltaics. However, a differentiation has to be made and environmentally friendly crystalline silicon solar cells should be preferred to thin-film solar cells, which consist of rare and toxic resources, as long as their recycling is not ensured.
    At the end of November there will be an interesting one about the Bioliq process and the bioeconomy between the material and energetic use of biomass Colloquium at KIT.

    My conclusion: Our current main problem is not the production of bio-fuel, but the uncontrolled spread of food production in ecosystems worth protecting, combined with enormous greenhouse gas emissions. This environmental degradation has always existed and, in my opinion, should be viewed independently of bio-fuel production and should be combated by similar sustainability criteria. Furthermore, I would like it if, like with electricity, there was also the possibility to choose and finance different sources for the supply of the fuel. With natural gas it is already possible and Greenpeace feeds hydrogen generated by wind power into the gas network (wind gas). Something like that could also be implemented for motor vehicle fuel, for example, when I pay the fuel bill, I select my special fuel supplier that only feeds fuel from certain sources. For example, I could buy a more expensive organic bio-fuel, or a mixture without oil sand products. Regardless of what actually ends up in my tank, I could still fund and promote the source of my choice.

  4. Dear Mr. Marek, thank you very much for this very detailed and nuanced comment, which clearly shows that you are very conscious of your choice of food and energy and that you deal intensively with the various options. I find this kind of critical attitude very gratifying and I am sorry that after your first comment I judged you to be quite a "photovoltaic fanatic" :-) But there are also a lot of them and I've had a few unpleasant ones and very much Unobjective discussions in which the knights of the various renewable energy camps meet. Really a very sad and absurd situation when the supporters of PV, wind and bioenergy then run away from one another.

    In any case, we humans should look at each other's fingers and, if necessary, hit them. This is especially true when some companies greedily exploit our valuable ecosystems. On the other hand, I also find it a shame if the media generalize in such an extremely negative way, thereby taking away all the fun and passion for the necessary (!) Energy transition. Suddenly every biogas plant contributes to maize and every biofuel kills an orangutan. I'm sorry, but it can't be, and once you arrive at this level argumentatively, it's hard to find your way back to an objective and constructive debate. I agree with most of your points and I also observe the research work of the KIT on material and energetic use of biomass with great interest.

    There are many critical points with which biomass use but fortunately there are at least as many fascinating examples that the bioeconomy shows rather than the way of the circular economy in which there is no more “waste”.

    I wish you success for your very conscious path as a consumer in today's society of apparent abundance. If you would like to write a guest article on one of your energy projects (at KIT?) In the future or would like to take a critical look at the bioenergy, energy or raw materials transition, then I would be pleased. Best regards from Berlin.

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