Three important and near-simultaneous reports released recently present compelling case for urgently accelerating UK biofuels policy. The International Energy Agency (IEA), the Renewable Energy Association and now DECC/Defra/DfT all call for maximising home-grown biofuel output.
The Renewable Energy Association (REA) has welcomed the rapid-fire publication of three reports, which together present a compelling case for clarity on UK biofuels policy. The UK has a legally binding target of meeting 10% of transport demand from renewable sources by 2020 – the latest official figures (for 2010) have us at 2.9%. The transport sector currently accounts for 24% of UK greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the recently published DECC/Defra/DfT ‘UK Bioenergy Strategy’.
The Strategy also states that: “potentially for as long as we use fossil fuels, sustainable first generation biofuels … offer a cost-effective contribution to reduced emissions from transport in line with our carbon reduction objectives.”
The previous day, the IEA presented to the Clean Energy Ministerial findings from its new report ‘Tracking Clean Energy Progress’, which states clearly that: “Biofuels production needs to double, requiring a four‑fold increase in advanced biofuels production over currently announced capacity by 2020 [to prevent global warming over 2°C]”.
Both these publications also stress the importance of rigorous sustainability criteria, concerns which the REA shares. Latest figures from DfT, also released last week, reveal that while home-grown biofuels accounted for only 12% of the UK biofuels market between April and December last year, 93% of these achieved the voluntary sustainability criteria.
This compares with a 53% average across the board, with growth in imports of Dutch used cooking oil and American maize-based ethanol dominating the biodiesel and bioethanol markets respectively. However, with the Renewable Transport Fuels Obligation now transposed into legislation, these criteria are no longer voluntary, and biofuels which don’t meet these requirements will not count towards the UK’s renewable transport target.
“The Government cannot afford to ignore the transport sector in the move towards a sustainable energy economy. The ‘Bioenergy Strategy’ is welcome but we urgently need a dedicated low carbon transport strategy. This is vital for building the investor confidence to steer us towards our mandated renewable energy and carbon targets,” REA Chief Executive, Gaynor Hartnell, comments. “As we argue in ‘Renewable Energy: Made in Britain’, released last week, we should seek to maximise domestic renewable energy, including our transport fuels, which have exemplary green credentials. The sooner Government gets its policies in order, the more we can rely on biofuels made in Britain, and the less we will have to rely on imports.”
Proper policy support now
Both documents also champion the benefits of advanced biofuels and electric vehicles, while also acknowledging that the commercial viability of these solutions is still some time off. This is why the first generation biofuel market needs proper policy support now to accelerate the transition towards these future technologies, as REA’s Head of Renewable Transport Clare Wenner explains: “Advanced biofuels and electric vehicles will undoubtedly have a vital role to play in the on-going decarbonisation of the transport sector – but they are not a panacea, and they will not materialise overnight.
“Government needs to craft stable policy to support the first generation biofuels market, to enable the key players to build up their markets. They will then be in a position where they can afford to invest in the R&D required to make these future technologies viable.
“We need to establish both a market today and a pathway that rewards continuous technology improvement.”
On 22 May, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers will host an event entitled “Meeting the UK 2020 green energy targets: How can biofuels contribute?”, during which the keynote speaker, Tim Yeo MP, Energy and Climate Change Committee Chairman, will lead a discussion on how farmers, refineries, process technology providers, automotive industry and government can work together towards the renewable transport fuel obligation.
Next month, the REA’s Renewable Transport Fuels Group will hold a parliamentary event on 25 June to further state the case for clear biofuels policy support to 2020.