The use of supposedly ‘green’ biodiesel to hit EU renewable energy targets has actually significantly increased greenhouse gas emissions, a new study finds.
By 2020, continued use of biodiesel derived from vegetable oil will increase total EU transport emissions by almost four per cent compared with using its fossil fuel alternative, according to analysis by Transport & Environment, a green group.
That is roughly equivalent to putting an extra 12 million cars to the road, it says.
Countries across Europe have blended small percentages of biofuels into petrol and diesel in recent years in an attempt to cut emissions and to hit the EU’s renewable energy directive (RED), which requires 10 per cent of transport energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.
But Transport & Environment says the EU’s own studies show that producing biodiesel from food crops – in particular soy and palm oil – is significantly worse for the environment than producing regular diesel.
This is largely due to the knock-on effects on land usage of using food crops for fuel, which can result in rainforests or other habitats being cleared to make way for more food crops, so actually increasing emissions.
Producing crop-based biodiesel has an emissions footprint on average 1.8 times the size of fossil fuel based diesel, it says.
The EU revised the RED last year to take account of widespread concerns about the impacts of land use change, saying that biofuels from crops grown on agricultural land could count for a maximum of seven per cent toward the 10 per cent target. It is encouraging countries to instead use ‘advanced’, non-food crop biofuels.
But Transport & Environment says its analysis takes account of these changes, and that the overall effect of the policy is still likely to be harmful.
It estimated that the use of bioethanol from crops as an alternative to petrol would marginally reduce overall transport emissions, by about 0.5 per cent, while the use of advanced biofuels could contribute a two per cent reduction.
However, set against the four per cent increase in emissions due to biodiesel the net impact of the EU biofuel will still be an overall increase in transport emissions of about 1.4 per cent, it said.