The European Commission has approved seven schemes that were established to guarantee that biofuels used in the EU are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.
A biofuel is any kind of fuel produced from organic matter – from living things or from the waste they produce. This is a long and diverse list, but includes wood chips, straw, biogas (methane) from animal’s excrement and liquid fuels made from processing plant material. As an alternate technology source, Biofuels are a part of the EU strategy to cut CO2 emissions.
However, recently, the term “Biofuel” has come to refer more exclusively to the last category – to ethanol and diesel that is produced from crops including corn, sugarcane and rapeseed. This method of production is controversial because the crops need to be grown specifically for biofuel production, which means that in some countries they have replaced forests, which harms biodiversity, while the space allotted to their farming is seen as a rival to food crops.
The EU Energy Commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, said that the damaging side effects of biofuel production were “a real concern…particularly in the big producing countries, South-East Asia and South America”.
The EU Commission’s new schemes aim to tackle these concerns by promoting a sustainable and regulated production of biofuels. Commission data indicated that in 2007, roughly 26% of biodiesel and 31% of bioethanol used in the EU was imported, mostly from Brazil and the US. Biofuel producers will now have to verify how and where their crops are grown, and those farmed on land that used to be forest or wetland will not qualify.
Companies importing or producing biofuels will be required to prove that they meet the EU’s strict criteria. To be approved, the Commission requires that biofuels emit at least 35% less greenhouse gases then fossil fuels such as petrol, though this minimum is set to increase in the next few years.