Sustainability of Biofuels

Economic operators in the area of biofuels will soon be able to adopt voluntary schemes to prove that their biofuels are sustainable. These voluntary schemes will have to comply with the sustainability criteria set out in the Renewable Energies Directive and be recognized by the European Commission.

This is foreseen in the set of guidelines adopted by the Commission to clarify the sustainability scheme defined under the Renewable Energies Directive.

The package of explanatory measures was presented by the Commission on 10 June 2010.

The Sustainability Scheme

The recently revised Framework Directive 2009/28/EC on renewable energies sets differentiated targets for Member States that require them to use part of their energy from biofuels and bioliquids. Biofuels (bioenergy for transport) or bioliquids (bioenergy for other uses than transport) may however not always be environmentally-friendly. The Directive therefore sets out sustainability criteria that some bioliquids and biofuels must meet in order to qualify for the targets.

The Commission has adopted a set of guidelines to clarify this sustainability scheme. The package is composed of guidelines to help Member States and economic operators clarify and apply the criteria, guidelines for calculating default values and inform operators on procedures for voluntary sustainability schemes and finally binding guidelines on calculating land carbon stocks.

Implementing the sustainability scheme

The first measure gives guidance for calculating greenhouse gas emission reductions from the use of biofuels. It also clarifies the rules regarding how to take certain biofuels into account when calculating the share of renewable energy in the Member States whole energy consumption. This is needed to assess whether Member States meet their renewable energy targets for 2020. The guidelines relate to the following:

1. The scope of the criteria. The Communication adopted by the Commission provides that sustainability criteria only have to be met with regard to greenhouse gas savings, land with high biodiversity value, land with high carbon stock and agro-environmental practices. This means that most but not all biofuels and liquids are covered.
The Communication specifies that the criteria is fully harmonised. Therefore Member States cannot adopt additional criteria but they may set up national support schemes.

2. Calculating the greenhouse gas impact of biofuels. The Renewable Energies Directive requires Member States to ensure that the use of biofuels produce greenhouse gas emissions savings of 35% (50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018 for new installations) compared to the equivalent amount of fossil fuels.

The calculation can be done using either actual values or default values. The calculation methodology for these savings is laid down in the (Annex to the) Directive. The Communication gives guidance to when default values, actual values and disaggregated default values can be used.

3. Land related criteria. Raw materials should not originate from land with high biodiversity value, namely forest, wooded land and nature protected areas. There is however an exception for non-natural highly biodiverse grassland land when the harvesting is necessary to protect the grassland and for nature protection areas only if the harvesting doesn't negatively impact on the protection's purpose. CEN (European Committee for Standardization) will determine what evidence will have to be provided.

As regards land with high carbon stock, the Communication defines clearly what the Commission means by continuously forested areas, areas with 10-30% canopy cover and peatland, which cannot constitute raw materials for biofuels. 

4. The Communication provides that fuels that are partly renewable can be counted as biofuels to meet national targets as long as the biomass part of the fuels meets the appropriate threshold (set in the Annex to the Directive).

In addition biofuels produced from waste and residues can "count double" in accounting for the national targets.

Voluntary Schemes and Default Values

The second Communication aims to inform economic operator s on the procedure the Commission will follow to recognise the voluntary schemes and multilateral agreements. These schemes can be used by operators to prove their biofuels or liquids comply with the sustainability criteria set in the Directive. The other purpose is to clarify the procedure to amend or add new "default values" to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions savings that are laid down in the Directive. 

As the responsibility of respecting the sustainability criteria and providing evidence falls on economic operators the sustainability scheme includes tools to reduce the administrative burdens on operators.

A first tool consists in voluntary schemes adopted by operators to prove compliance with the criteria. These have to be recognised by the Commission. The other tool is default values to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions savings. The Renewable Energies Directive requires Member States to ensure that the use of biofuels produce greenhouse gas emissions savings of 35% (50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018 for new installations) compared to the equivalent amount of fossil fuels. The calculation can be done using either actual values or default values. These are included in the Annex to the Directive and can be amended by the Commission.

As regards the assessment and recognition procedure, the Communication provides that operators must submit a request that will be assessed against the sustainability criteria on a case by case basis. The Commission will then adopt a detailed Decision that will recognise the voluntary scheme for 5 years, following the "comitology" procedure.  The same process will apply to international agreements. The Commission will update or add new default values every two years.

Land Carbon Stocks

The Commission has proposed a detailed and binding methodology to calculate land carbon stocks that completes the methodology for calculating greenhouse gas emissions savings provided by the Framework Directive on Renewable Energies. The guidelines will be made binding with the adoption of a Commission Decision through the comitology procedure.

Land carbon stock is the quantity of carbon contained in areas of land. Depending on land-use changes introduced, the land carbon stock situation can change. The Renewable Energies Directive provides that land carbon stocks and land use changes should be included in the calculations concerning greenhouse gas emissions savings. A methodology to calculate the greenhouse gas emissions savings is annexed to the Directive. This initiative complements the methodology by providing a specific and detailed methodology to calculate land carbon stocks.

The guidelines lay down detailed rules to calculate soil organic carbon stock and above and below ground vegetation carbon stock that compose land carbon stocks. It provides for a table of standard values for soil carbon stocks in relation to the soil type and climate region. Finally the guidelines set out tables of values for factors reflecting the difference in soil organic carbon compared to the standard soil organic carbon in relation to different types of land.

These guidelines are incorporated in a draft Commission Decision. The Decision will be adopted through the comitology procedure.