EU focus on electric vehicles favours the rich, says ethanol industry

EU focus on electric vehicles favours the rich, says ethanol industry

EURACTIV — 2023-10-26

News from Brussels

Speaking at a Euractiv event on EU biofuels policy, David Carpintero, the director general of ethanol trade association ePURE, said lawmakers should consider which of the emissions-reduction solutions is “the most socially inclusive”.

“We cannot leave a segment of the population that cannot afford a €60,000 car out of the energy transition,” he said, arguing that high blends of biofuels can affordably reduce carbon from traditional vehicles.

“Buyers of new cars continue to choose gasoline cars [and] we need to defossilise that fleet,” he added. “When it comes to the current defossilisation of transport, 90% is done thanks to biofuels. Renewable electricity is only 1.3%.”

The EU’s objective should be to offer all citizens “mobility that is 100% GHG free”, Carpintero stated.

“Battery electric vehicles are not the response to many mobility needs. We now see consumers who are not rushing to buy battery electric vehicles,” he said. “Despite incentives and subsidies, we don’t see the numbers on sales of battery electric vehicles.”

“The European Union cannot afford an energy transition that is just for the rich,” he added.

Supporters of the electric vehicle transition argue that while prices remain higher than combustion engine vehicles at the moment, the price of electric cars will come down as supply increases and manufacturers reallocate resources and expertise away from producing fossil fuel vehicles.

New CO2 tailpipe standards

Under recently adopted EU rules, the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be de facto banned from 2035, with the vast majority of new cars sold after that date expected to be fully battery electric.

“We believe that electrification of road transport is the most effective way to decarbonise transport,” said Bernd Küpker, an official at the European Commission’s energy directorate, asserting that the market is going towards electrification not just in Europe but globally.

During discussions to finalise the CO2 standards for passenger vehicles law, a last-minute intervention from Germany saw an exception added which would permit the sale of combustion engine cars running exclusively on carbon-neutral fuels.

Currently, only e-fuels – hydrogen-based fuels made with renewable electricity – are considered applicable, though the biofuels industry has lobbied to have bioethanol and biodiesel included in the definition of carbon-neutral fuels.

But Chelsea Baldino, a researcher with the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a non-profit organisation, pushed against a broader definition of carbon-neutral fuels, calling e-fuels “the only scalable, low greenhouse gas fuel option that we have”.

When it comes to fuels for passenger vehicles, modelling from the EU Commission and the ICCT show that the most “cost-effective, feasible, and from a life-cycle greenhouse gas perspective the best way is direct electrification, so expanding the definition beyond e-fuels is not necessary”, she said.

Baldino also called for monitoring systems to ensure that only carbon-neutral fuels are used in combustion engine vehicles produced post-2035, warning of the risk of fraud.

In other transport modes where electrification is not possible, second-generation biofuels made from wastes and residues are favoured in EU policy, according to Küpker.

In the coming years, advanced biofuels and synthetic fuels “will grow the most, while conventional biofuels will keep at the same level”, he added.

While crop-based biofuels still form the biggest share of renewable energy in transport, “this will be less the case in 2030″, he added.

Chemical industry applications

Given the limited room for growth under the current EU policy, Michael Carus, the founder of research institute Nova, encouraged crop-based biofuel producers to pivot away from the transport fuels market towards the chemical market.

The creation of chemical-based products will continue to require carbon, meaning the deployment of bioethanol in the sector can ensure that chemical products are produced in a more sustainable way, he argued.

“It would be strange to destroy the great infrastructure of the bioethanol industry, for example, if another sector needs the same, as [is the case with] chemical intermediates. We should organise the transformation from bioethanol for fuels to bioethanol and other fermentation products for the chemical industry,” he said.

The “existing bioethanol production could be very well used” for chemical products, he stated, noting that shifting focus would mean that the “huge demand from the chemical industry” could absorb much of the biofuel quantities currently deployed to the transport sector.