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Taking a look at sustainability certification for biofuels

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Independent TÜV SÜD experts, Igor Dormuth and Elena Schmidt, provide an insight into the EU Commission's ambitious sustainability standards for biofuels. They look at the certification schemes available and the criteria that market players who produce biofuels for the European market must fulfil.
Taking a look at sustainability certification for biofuels

In July, the EU approved seven voluntary certification schemes which apply in the 27 EU Member States and define sustainability criteria. Germany's government has been supporting and controlling the expansion of biofuels for some years, establishing sustainability criteria, tax benefits and quotas.

Sustainability Certification– understanding the process

Germany's Biofuel Sustainability Ordinance (Biokraftstoff-Nachhaltigkeitsverordnung, BioKraft-NachV), for instance, came into effect at the beginning of this year. The criteria of this ordinance aim at establishing a framework for sustainable biomass use. They apply throughout the supply chain, from the farmer or biomass producer to the distributor and biofuel producer. Each link in the supply chain must request the previous link in the supply chain to submit a valid certificate. Proof of sustainability, which can only be issued by the last link in the chain, completes the supply chain process.

These documents firstly are required to credit the respective quantity of biofuel to the biofuel quota in accordance with Germany's Air Pollution Control Act (Bundes-Immissionsschutzgesetz, BImSchG). Introduced on 1 January 2007, the quota has become critical in promoting biofuels in Germany. It places the mineral oil industry under the obligation to put a minimum share of biofuels on the market. This minimum share increases by 0.25 per cent per year until a mandatory minimum share of eight per cent is reached by 2015.

Secondly, proofs of sustainability are preconditions for obtaining tax benefits under Germany's Energy Tax Law (Energiesteuergesetz, EnergieSt). After all, pure biofuels which are not used for meeting the biofuel quota will incur tax relief until 2012. Pure biofuels used in agriculture and forestry also continue to be exempted from taxes. E 85 (85 per cent bioethanol and 15 percent petrol) and biogas used as fuel are exempted from energy tax until 2015.

Certificates throughout the process chain

Biofuel companies can choose which voluntary certification scheme they use to verify that they fulfil the criteria. Certification schemes can be approved either by national authorities or the EU Commission.

At present, Germany has permanently approved two of these certification schemes: ISCC and REDCert. TÜV SÜD's third-party experts conduct certification in accordance with both systems. All players along the supply chain can use the certification scheme of their choice. First gathering points (FGPs) are biomass traders purchasing their commodity directly from the producers. They are the first link along the production and supply chain that needs to be certified and, as such, are obliged to participate in a certification scheme.

At present, the EU Commission has approved several of these voluntary certification schemes. The ISCC is an international system for all types of biofuels supported by the German government. Bonsucro EU, RTRS EU RED, and RSB EU RED are three initiatives developed in a joint effort of private players and public institutions. The first initiative targets biofuels based on sugar cane and is mainly used in Brazil. The second initiative aims at biofuels made from soy beans and is located primarily in Argentina and Brazil. The third applies to all types of biofuels.

All certification schemes have been approved by the Commission for an initial five-year period. They are designed to ensure the sustainability of the raising share of energy from renewable sources in the transport sector. This is set forth in the EU Directive on the promotion of energy from renewable sources which the EU Commission already passed in April 2009.

Focus on land-related criteria

This EU Directive aims at ensuring that both the production and the consumption of biofuels will make an effective contribution to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In Germany, the Directive was transposed into national law by the German Biofuel Sustainability Ordinance (Biokraftstoff-Nachhaltigkeitsverordnung, BioKraft-NachV). For biofuels, the cultivation of biomass is the first link in the supply chain. The Directive and the German Ordinance aim to promote the use of fallow land while preventing the use of ecologically valuable land for the cultivation of biomass. In this respect, Germany's BioKraft-NachV refers to both bioliquids and biogas to be used as a biofuel.

In accordance with the 'land-use criteria', biomass may on principle be cultivated on all areas that were already designated as arable land back in January 2008. More recent arable areas may be excluded from cultivation if they fall into one of the following four categories: areas of high conservation value, high carbon stock land, peatland and all areas that are not cultivated in a sustainable manner and thus violate the obligations set forth in regulation (EC) No. 73/2009 (cross-compliance).

Two types of accounting

Biofuels must emit significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions than fossil fuels. The emission reduction target is 35 per cent at present and will rise to 50 per cent from 2017 onwards. Regarding the potential for greenhouse-gas reduction, all emissions throughout the entire value chain must be included in the calculation. Accounting is possible by two different methods: with the help of 'default values' or by means of individual calculation.

Default values are available for biofuels produced from various raw materials. They are set forth in the EU Directive and can be used instead of actually calculated values. The second possibility is an exact calculation of the emissions caused in the individual case, which may make good sense for particularly efficient processes and procedures, in which the exactly calculated value should be lower than the default value. When choosing this method, the auditors at TÜV SÜD will verify all input data, including transport routes and distances, energy input, changes in land use and fertiliser consumption.

To conclude, biofuels are technically mature, tried and tested and can already replace larger volumes of fossil oil today. However, biofuels and other bioliquids are subject to complex and multi-faceted legal regulations. TÜV SÜD's independent and impartial experts support market players throughout all stages of the production and supply chain on their way to obtain certification and thus, gain legal certainty and protect their investments.

Editor's note: Thanks to Igor Dormuth, Product Manager for the Certification of Biofuels and Other Bioliquids (Carbon Management Service department at TÜV SÜD Industrie Service), and Elena Schmidt, Product Manager for the Certification of Biomethane (Carbon Management Service department at TÜV SÜD Industrie Service), for kindly providing this article.

For additional information:

TÜV SÜD Industrie Service

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