Violation of fuel quality law tests EU transport decarbonisation goal

Violation of fuel quality law tests EU transport decarbonisation goal

EURACTIV — 2022-12-09

News from Brussels

The EU may be ambitious in its objective to decarbonise transport based on new technologies such as electric cars, but official figures indicate that member states are already breaching laws related to existing technologies, such as conventional biofuels.

The Fuel Quality Directive (FQD) sets out a 6% reduction target by 2020 in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of transport fuels. FQD practically means that member states were urged to blend petrol with renewable energies such as bioethanol or biodiesel.

FQD, together with the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), is considered the main piece of EU legislation driving road transport decarbonisation.

But a European Commission report found that just 11 of the 27 member states have achieved the target of reducing the GHG intensity of transport fuels and energy by at least 6%.

A source close to the matter told EURACTIV that the Commission is currently analysing each member state’s situation in reaching the objective of reducing the GHG intensity of transport fuels and will decide on the next steps in due course.

Asked if these next steps also entail penalties for non-compliant countries, the source threw the ball back to member states to decide their own punishment.

Under the Fuel Quality Directive, it is for the member states to introduce the penalty provisions into their national transposition of the Fuel Quality Directive and take appropriate action in case of non-compliance.”

Crop-based biofuels the ‘main’ drivers

Contacted by EURACTIV, a spokesperson for the European Renewable Ethanol Association (ePURE) said FQD largely enabled the use of sustainable biofuels but far below their true potential due to an unstable general framework.

“In 2020, biofuels represented 6.8% of the total reported fuel energy supply in road […] It is almost exclusively the use of biofuels that contributed to the reduction of the average GHG intensity of fuels in the EU by 5.5% in 2020 in the last ten years,” the ePURE spokesperson said.

“In comparison, the contribution of renewable electricity is still barely noticeable – biofuels and especially crop-based biofuels have been doing the heavy lifting,” ePURE added.

According to ePURE, FQD did help increase supply/demand for biofuels, as well as enabling synergies between fossil fuel and biofuel producers.

However, ethanol producers say the uptake of biofuels has been slowed, among other things, by the lack of EU harmonised mechanisms – incentives or penalties – to support biofuels.

“The uncertain legislative framework for biofuels (with the multiple revisions of the Renewable Energy Directive – RED) hamstrung the potential of crop-based biofuels, paralysed the development of advanced biofuels, and promoted instead virtual quantities of renewables through multipliers, and ultimately failed to curb EU’s dependence on fossil fuels,” ePURE said.

For its part, the European Biodiesel Board (EBB) insisted that biofuels are the main contributor to emissions’ reduction in the road transport sector.

“All other alternatives still have a long way to market maturity,” EBB told EURACTIV and added: “While we recognise the EU’s failure to achieve the 6% FQD target, for which the constant changes on the EU’s biofuels policy are partially to blame, we consider that biofuels did not fail per se, and will be able to further contribute to step-up GHG savings in the transport sector, provided the right EU legislative framework is put in place.

Asked why the 6% was not achieved, EBB said most member states did not even implement the FQD, perhaps because they hoped that when the RED was achieved, the FQD would automatically follow.

The FQD’s original target of 6% is now being continued (and strengthened) by the RED III proposed targets to reduce GHG emissions from transport, which we hope can trigger additional actions by member states”.

What should be done next?

Zoltán Szabó, a sustainability consultant for Ethanol Europe, criticised the fact that the European Commission has taken no action so far and questioned its willingness to do so.

“The credibility of regulations is at stake. There is very little progress in transport decarbonisation, the FQD is a piece of regulation that can deliver,” he told EURACTIV.

Similarly, EBB said any violation of an EU directive should lead to action by the Commission to push EU member states to step up.

However, EBB pointed out that the discussions on the RED III revision (part of the Fit-for-55 package) include a higher GHG reduction target for fuels, which should be either 16% (European Parliament proposal) or 13% (Council proposal).

“For us, this confirms the EU’s intention to step up the decarbonisation of the transport sector, and the continuation of its policies to reduce emissions from fuels,” EBB said.

But ethanol producers say the 13% target is still low and should be raised to at least 16%.

“Ideally, such an obligation would have been accompanied by an indicative trajectory starting from 6% in 2021 as set in the existing FQD, to at least 11% in 2025 and 16% by 2030, to ensure member states’ continuous decarbonisation efforts, which as we see with the EEA report have not been met,” ePURE concluded.

EURACTIV also contacted the green NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) regarding the report on FQD but they were not available to comment.

Green campaigners, like T&E, favour wide-spread electrification of road transport over using biofuels to cut emissions, arguing that crop-based biofuels drive deforestation abroad, harming GHG reduction. They have also raised concerns over biofuels’ impact on global food market prices.

Their claims are contested by industry.