Instead of helping the environment, most biofuels actually hurt it.
Biodiesel is the most consumed biofuel in Europe today:
Biodiesel can be made from rapeseed oil, soy oil and even animal fats. In Europe, it is increasingly composed of palm oil. It can be blended with diesel fuel and is used for diesel engines.
The problem? European food-based biodiesel produces, on average, 80% more CO2 than fossil diesel.
Source: Lifecycle analysis by T&E based on Gloom study (2016)
Palm-oil biodiesel is the worst of all biofuels. It releases three times the greenhouse gases emissions of fossil diesel. Despite that, it’s used more and more to fuel European diesel cars and trucks. And drivers don’t know they are burning palm.
All the growth in EU biodiesel since 2010 comes from imported palm oil. So much so that drivers are now the top consumers of palm oil in Europe.
WHY ARE SOME BIOFUELS WORSE FOR THE CLIMATE THAN FOSSIL FUELS?
© Nugroho Adi Putera / Greenpeace
Deforestation and draining of carbon-rich ecosystems
Today, biofuels are mainly made from food crops and need large areas of land to be produced. Since most agricultural land is already being used to produce food for people, new areas have to be found to meet the ever-increasing demand for food and animal feed.
This leads to deforestation and draining of rich ecosystems, releasing tonnes of greenhouse gases.
This butterfly effect is called indirect land-use change (ILUC). The current EU biofuels policy doesn’t take into account these emissions.
The law was meant to reduce climate-change emissions from transport. Not only is it failing to do so, it’s actually set to increase Europe’s overall transport emissions by 1.4% in 2020 (this analysis includes the 7% cap on food-based biofuels). The cure is worse than the disease.
The use of food-based biofuels has three main downsides
WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?
Renewable electricity and sustainable advanced biofuels
Transport is Europe’s biggest climate problem and Trump pulling out of the Paris Agreement is making things worse for our planet.
If fossil fuels accelerate climate change, and if most biofuels in Europe today are even worse, what should power our cars and trucks?
At the moment the cleanest energy that can be produced to fuel the transport sector in Europe is renewable electricity from wind or solar. The EU should strongly promote sustainable electromobility to decarbonise the transport sector.
2.4 cars fueled by 1 football pitch of food crops
260 cars fueled by 1 football pitch of photovoltaic solar panels
Sustainable advanced biofuels, produced from wastes and residues, can also play an important role in the fight against climate change. But since their availability is limited, they shouldn’t be seen as the main solution.
In parallel to the push for cleaner fuels, the EU must also phase out land-based biodiesel as soon as possible and decrease the cap on all land-based biofuels to 0% in 2030.
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