How do biofuels fit in the EU's energy mix?

Around 64% of the oil used in the EU’s energy mix is by transport[19]. Even with ambitious uptake of more efficient and electric vehicles, petroleum-derived fuels will still make up 70% of transport fuel in 2030[20]. Given the projected increase in import dependency and price volatility, with petroleum prices likely to reach near US$100 per barrel again for the medium term[21], these costs will rise in the future.

In 2012, about 26% of biofuels consumed in the EU28 were imported, of which 23% was biodiesel and 29% was ethanol[22].

The European Energy Security Strategy considered renewable fuels as an integral part of the 2030 policy framework on climate & energy and encouraged EU member states to consider favourable taxation for those fuels[23].

How can biofuels help energy security?

Locally-produced biofuels offer the opportunity to increase Europe’s energy security:
  • Europe is leading the way in developing advanced biofuel technologies[24]. Even though many are choosing to implement their commercial scale facilities outside of Europe[25], the EU could be a leading producer
  • It diversifies away from the main energy countries like Russia and the Gulf countries, towards major biofuel exporters such as the US and Brazil

European biofuel production is expected to reach 11 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE) by 2020, growing to 15.5 million TOE by 2030[26].

How much biomass is available?

Biomass resource potential is an area where various estimates can be found. Individual studies reach different conclusions on the potential for bioenergy due to the use of different modelling approaches, assumptions, underlying data, and very important different definitions of the term potential. The potential can roughly be identified in four different ways: Theoretical, technical, economic or sustainable[27].

As far as biofuels are concerned, Europe is already a major importer of conventional biofuels – In 2012, about 26% of biofuels consumed in the EU were imported. Meeting the EU’s 2020 and 2030 renewable energy targets and the desire to increase security of supply is likely to lead to a rapid growth of biomass import.

North America, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe, in particular Eastern Europe all have great potential for producing non-food biomass from current agriculture and forestry. For example, Europeans generate about 1 billion tonnes per year of waste paper, food, agricultural residues and other biomaterials with about a quarter sustainably available for energy use, i.e. about 220 million tonnes per year in total. That amount of material could theoretically produce the equivalent of 16% of the expected demand for liquid fuels for road transport in 2030[28].

Further investment and innovation in the European agricultural sector leads to greater productivity, and these higher yields lead to less land needed for livestock[29]. This will not only release land for biomass production and other uses, but can also lead to lower direct GHG emissions from food production.

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