Biomass Fuels: Meeting the Demands of the EU Renewable Energy Directive

 In 2009 the European Union adopted the Renewable Energy Directive in response to concerns over the fossil fuel sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions; the directive mandates 20% renewable fuel use and a 6% greenhouse gas emission reduction in member states by 2020. As of March 2012 “10 of the EU’s 27 Member States are likely to surpass their national targets, while a further 12 will meet their goals. Just five countries are predicted to miss their targets using domestic renewable energy sources alone.” The key issue preventing member states from reaching their goal is financing.


Biomass is “biological material derived from living, or recently living organisms.” Reducing greenhouse gasses and encouraging energy sustainability is best practice because “biomass takes carbon out of the atmosphere while it is growing, and returns it as it is burned. If it is managed on a sustainable basis, biomass is harvested as part of a constantly replenished crop. This maintains a closed carbon cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.” Significant sources for automotive fuels are:
• Energy crops: high yield crops grown specifically for energy applications
• Agricultural residues: residues from agriculture harvesting or processing
• Food waste, from food and drink manufacture, preparation and processing, and post-consumer waste
• Industrial waste and co-products from manufacturing and industrial processes.

Automotive Fuels

There are environmental consequences to using food crops for biofuels. Science Direct reports, “the production of 2nd generation of bio-automotive fuels i.e. synthetic fuels such as methanol, ethanol, DME, FT-diesel, SNG and hydrogen through biomass gasification seems promising.” Gassification of woody biomass and other agricultural/forest residues is less costly and less environmentally damaging, so represents sound practice under current technology.

European automobile manufacturers have been deadlocked with the European Union Parliament because redesigning their products to utilize biofuels is a significant burden crippling investment. However, a consortium of European auto manufacturers has proactively presented a “roadmap” for achieving the directive’s goals by 2030, reporting that a “‘range of biofuels’ could deliver:
• At least 8% of the EU’s 2020 10% Renewable Fuels target.
• 4% of greenhouse gas emission savings required to meet the 6% Fuel Quality Directive target in 2020.
• 12-15% of energy to the transport sector by 2030, representing overall greenhouse gas emission savings of around 8%

Cost to Consumer

There is considerable concern over the cost to consumers for the Renewables Directive. Although estimates vary, in general it is thought that the burden will represent anywhere from 1% of GDP, much of that cost shouldered by drivers in tighter economic circumstances. Thus, the cost of manufacturer production conversion and of biofuel products will be added to the purchase of vehicles and price per liter/gallon of fuel, although these production costs should be absorbed by the industry by 2030. ‡‡‡ Many consumers view these costs as reasonable because of the potential environmental payoffs.


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