EU commission sets up system for certifying sustainable biofuels

The European Commission is to encourage industry, governments and NGOs to set up certification schemes for all types of biofuels, including those imported into the EU.

Under a new set of guidelines, the Commission will require that biofuel usage should result in a clear reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to crude oil-based products. The guidelines also clarify the criteria to be used to ensure that biofuels meet sustainability requirements, and will apply to all biofuels produced in and imported into the EU.

According to the Commission, this will "help implement the EU's requirements that biofuels must deliver substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while not coming from forests, wetlands and nature protection areas".

One of the key aspects of the guidelines is that independent inspectors will be responsible for auditing the entire production chain, from the origin of the organic material used to the facilities where it is processed and the fuel suppliers that deliver gasoline or diesel fuel to service stations.

The rules for certification schemes are part of a set of guidelines explaining how the Renewable Energy Directive, coming into effect in December 2010, should be implemented.

What are the main guidelines?

  • Sustainable Biofuel Certificates: The Commission is encouraging industry, Governments and NGOs to set up "voluntary schemes" to certify biofuel sustainability - and explains the standards these must meet to gain EU recognition. One of the main criteria is that they should have independent auditors to check the whole production chain, from the farmer and the mill, via the trader, to the fuel supplier who delivers petrol or diesel to the filling station. The Communication sets standards requiring this auditing to be reliable and fraud-resistant;
  • Protecting untouched nature: According to the Commission, Biofuels should not be made from raw materials from tropical forests or recently deforested areas, drained peatland, wetland or highly biodiverse areas - and the Commission explains how this should be assessed. For example, the conversion of a forest to a palm oil plantation would fall foul of the sustainability requirements;
  • Promote only biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings: The Communication reiterates that Member States have to meet binding, national targets for renewable energy and that only those biofuels with high greenhouse gas savings count for the national targets. It explains how this is to be calculated. Biofuels must deliver greenhouse gas savings of at least 35% compared to fossil fuels, rising to 50% in 2017 and to 60%, for biofuels from new plants, in 2018.


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Bioenergy  •  Policy, investment and markets