Europe Votes For No First-Generation Biofuels by 2020

Auto careerWhen you become a mechanic, you’ll see first-hand what effect different types of fuels have on car engines and systems. Having an auto career, though, makes you keenly aware as well of what effect different types of fuel have on the environment and how the industry, government and the public are reacting to it.

Ethanol biofuel was originally heralded as the environmentally friendly fuel to put in the tank. While that may be true in terms of what comes out of the car’s exhaust, producing the fuel has resulted in forest land being re-purposed to grow corn and the transport of fuel does burn carbon. This has caused many people to try and restrict the use of ethanol or encourage other sources for natural fuel.

The European Parliament Cap

On February 24th, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted to approve a draft law capping first generation biofuels at six percent of final transport energy consumption by 2020. First generation refers to fuels derived directly from corn oil, animal fats, starch and sugar. The parliament committee also decided it should set a goal of 10% of fuel coming from renewable energy sources like seaweed and some types of waste, also by 2020.

Member of Parliament Nils Torvalds, from Finland, wrote the draft bill and has the mandate to negotiate for it before the rest of the council. The Environment Committee hopes to have it in place by April.

Land Use is Critical

By using the bill to cover energy crops and not just food-based biofuels, the European Union will be making the issue of land use a priority if the draft law is adopted. This would mean that EU member states could not subsidize or promote production of a fuel which takes away land from grazing animals or growing vegetables for food. Member states have been subsidizing the biofuel industry, spending a total of $6 billion in 2011 alone.


“The model used for the report is not transparent and not suitable for precisely estimating the extent of land use change in non-EU countries and the resulting greenhouse gas admissions,” a spokesperson for Biofuel lobby Copa-Cogeca told the media, claiming data error and methodical problems, and arguing that “the risk that arable land will be abandoned is real.”

Mike Hambly of the UK-based National Farmers Union echoed this concern and adding that rural farming jobs would be lost in some less-productive regions.

Meanwhile, Nusa Urbancic of Transport and Environment (or T&E, a European environmental lobby group), applauded the move, though she thought it didn’t go far enough: “Although in some respects weaker than the original proposal from the Commission, this vote sends a clear signal that the European Parliament wants cleaner alternative fuels that actually reduce emissions.”

Do you think this ruling will help the environment, or is it akin to simply applying green automotive painting to a gas-guzzler?

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