The Aviation Blog

The proposal to address the issue of indirect land use change (ILUC) in European biofuel policy has advanced in the European Parliament, as MEP Corinne Lepage of France released her draft report in the Environment Committee. ILUC refers to unintended consequences of making biofuels—for example, if a policy preference for corn ethanol creates incentives for farmers to replace carbon-absorbing forests with cornfields, or to raise food prices by diverting corn to fuel. Some biofuels—often called “second generation”—made from non-edible crops like jatropha and algae that can thrive on currently non-productive land, avoid many of these ILUC effects.

Lepage’s proposal will incorporate specific ILUC “factors” into the sustainable criteria of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive and Fuel Quality Directive. This will account for differences in biofuels performance, while the Commission suggested to cap at 5 percent the share of conventional biofuels (biodiesel and bioethanol) in transport under the Renewable Energy Directive. Public subsidies for these biofuels will end by 2018.

To promote second-generation biofuels, the report calls for a carveout for woody biomass and agricultural residues. Lepage sought to protect prior investments, so she would delay until 2018 the ILUC factors on each member state’s share of biofuel consumption in the year 2010—provided that the grandfathered biofuels result in greenhouse gas reductions of at least 45 percent.

The grandfathering would benefit biodiesel, which accounted for 80 percent of European biofuel production in 2010. According to some news reports, however, bioethanol performs better on Lepage’s ILUC factors than biodiesel, evening out the advantage.

Lepage’s proposal will incorporate specific ILUC “factors” into the sustainable criteria of the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive and Fuel Quality Directive. This will account for differences in biofuels performance, while the Commission suggested to cap at 5 percent the share of conventional biofuels (biodiesel and bioethanol) in transport under the Renewable Energy Directive. Public subsidies for these biofuels will end by 2018.

To promote second-generation biofuels, the report calls for a carveout for woody biomass and agricultural residues. Lepage sought to protect prior investments, so she would delay until 2018 the ILUC factors on each member state’s share of biofuel consumption in the year 2010—provided that the grandfathered biofuels result in greenhouse gas reductions of at least 45 percent.

The grandfathering would benefit biodiesel, which accounted for 80 percent of European biofuel production in 2010. According to some news reports, however, bioethanol performs better on Lepage’s ILUC factors than biodiesel, evening out the advantage.

The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (or SAFUG, a consortium of airlines and aerospace firms of which Boeing is a part) has called for policymakers to consider mechanisms that reduce ILUC effects of biofuels. SAFUG has called for the EU to limit the share of food crop-based fuels; its members are committed to biofuels that do not displace food crops. SAFUG also calls for the European Parliament to establish incentives for biofuels that are certified as low-risk for ILUC effects, using a model like the Low Indirect Impact Biofuels (LIIB) standard. SAFUG members also support incentives for biofuels made from waste, algae, and ligno-cellulosics — but no further incentives for feedstocks.

The aviation industry is committed to developing high-efficiency, second-generation sustainable biofuels. These fuels can reduce the sector’s carbon footprint, provide a more diverse (and thus resilient) supply of energy, and develop a new, environmentally progressive industry. And as the industry develops these fuels, it is taking care to ensure they avoid ILUC effects.

For example, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines took a bold step for sustainable aviation last month by launching the first in a series of “Optimal Flights” using a 777 between New York and Amsterdam. Boeing is proud to be their partner in this effort that combines renewable fuels with advanced technology. This means not only using sustainable biofuels, but other smart technologies and concepts to improve the airplane’s operational efficiency while saving fuel and reducing carbon and noise emissions. Basically, we’re taking multiple flight efficiency projects and rolling them into one program to create the most environmentally progressive flight possible.

The Sustainable Aviation Fuel Users Group (or SAFUG, a consortium of airlines and aerospace firms of which Boeing is a part) is of the view that, because of the potential negative impact, ILUC must be addressed in government policies promoting the production of sustainable fuels. SAFUG has called for policymakers to consider mechanisms to lower the contribution of high ILUC risk biofuels and create incentives for sustainable biofuels that have been certified as low risk of ILUC. Any legislation addressing ILUC should consider the possibility of project-level mitigation approaches, including, but not limited to, the Low Indirect Impact Biofuels (LIIB) methodology currently under development by Ecofys, EPFL and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

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