Green transport reports look to get UK's biofuel drive back on track

by Search Gate staff. Published Wed 18 Jun 2014 11:38, Last updated: 2014-06-18
Twin reports assess biofuel pathways to 2020 target and beyond

The Government’s green transport partnership, the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP), has today published twin reports which set out how the UK could meet the targets for 2020, defined in the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, and proceed on a pathway to decarbonise road transport fuel beyond 2030.

The publication of the reports follows a decision by EU Energy Ministers last week to re-structure the nature of the targets in the EU Renewable Energy Directive following the European Commission’s proposals on indirect land use change.

This decision should end many years of debilitating uncertainty for the UK biofuels industry and enable the fuels sector to re-engage in the vital effort to decarbonise road transport.

The UK’s long term climate strategy implies a virtual decarbonisation of road transport by 2050. Cutting emissions through the full life cycle of fuels and energy supplied for transport is an important part of the challenge and requires clear long term policies from the UK to build on the most recent announcements from the EU.

The LowCVP – the body which brings government, industry and other stakeholders together to focus on the challenges of decarbonising road transport - commissioned Element Energy to analyse the UK’s options for meeting the Renewable Energy Directive’s (RED) 2020 transport target which states that at least 10% of the final energy consumption in transport must come from renewable sources.

This and the parallel Fuels Roadmap report benefitted from wide industry consultation and explicitly set out to align with existing studies.

In the first report – RED Scenarios the researchers looked at four of the most promising scenarios to assess the best way for the UK to comply with the 2020 target. It found that adopting a majority combination of 10% ethanol in petrol (E10) and 7% biodiesel in diesel (B7) was the most pragmatic way of achieving the target with the vehicles and infrastructure available over the next five years.

To achieve this objective, however, would require full uptake by consumers and operators of E10 and B7 and that a significant volume of double counting blendable RED compliant material were available to the market.

Speaking today at Platts Biofuels Conference in Prague, LowCVP Policy and Operations Director Jonathan Murray welcomed the recent decision coming from the EU energy ministers to clarify the RED: “These reports bring into focus the challenging area for policy straddling the fuels and auto industries. Our work provides a clear basis of evidence to show how the UK can meet its RED obligations to 2020 and contribute to carbon reductions from transport fuels in the longer term through working closely together on the details of the challenge.”

According to the report’s authors, in the 2020s two separate factors are expected to enable electric vehicles to make a significant contribution to renewable transport energy. Firstly, the technology and infrastructure for electric vehicles is expected to become more widespread and cost-effective. Secondly, the share of renewable electricity in the UK grid (e.g. biomass, solar, wind, wave and tidal power) is expected to significantly increase.

The Element Energy lead author Celine Cluzel noted: “Meeting the UK’s carbon reduction targets calls for a transformation of the powertrains and fuels used in the vehicle fleet.

“While industry players have divergent views on technology choices and policy instruments, it was very encouraging to see that all the stakeholders we consulted during the project support and want to play a role in that transformation.

“The Fuels Roadmap, by identifying the key milestones, is a positive step towards delivering the change that will be required.”

The REA said it welcomed the research published today, which it described as an important step forward for the sustainable biofuels industry because the absence of a clear Government plan for meeting the 2020 renewable transport target has seen investment in the sector grind to a halt.

The Government had previously stated it would not increase the yearly biofuel mandates in its key biofuels policy, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), beyond 2014 due to lingering uncertainty at EU level over a phenomenon called indirect land use change (ILUC). The EU Energy Council finally reached political agreement on accounting for ILUC in the EU policy framework last Friday, enabling the UK to move forward with expanding the RTFO.

The RTFO currently requires 4.75% of UK transport fuel to come from renewable sources (about 3% of transport energy), but Government has not set out an increasing requirement beyond 2013/14.

The 2020 target is 10% transport energy from renewable sources, or approximately 13.5% of fuel from renewable sources. The two reports published today should give Government the evidence it needs to set out a yearly increase in the RTFO towards the 2020 target, so that businesses can again start investing in the sourcing and production of sustainable biofuels in the UK.

REA Head of Renewable Transport Clare Wenner said: “For investment and jobs in both current and advanced biofuels, the single most important step the Government can take is to set out a trajectory in the RTFO towards the 2020 target. The analyses published today should help kick-start the debate on how to do this in a way that maximises economic benefit for the UK and environmental benefit for us all.

“There’s no time to wait, and now there’s no need to wait. Government must seize this opportunity to get green transport back on track. UK biofuel producers achieve exceptional greenhouse gas savings and produce home-grown animal feed as well as sustainable biofuel. We do science and engineering very well in the UK, so with the right support for advanced biofuels, we could become a key player in this cutting-edge sector.”

According to the REA’s recent report REview – Renewable Energy View: 2014 the UK sustainable biofuels sector attracted £740 million of investment over the period 2010-13 (in spite of ongoing policy uncertainty) and currently supports 3,510 jobs and 200 companies across the supply chain.

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