Biofuels Coordinating Action

The Directive on the “Promotion of the Use of Energy from Renewable Sources” (2009/28/EC), so called RED Directive, sets several ambitious targets including a 10% share of renewable energy, specifically in the transport sector, obtained through a combination of domestic production and imports. It also sets environmental sustainability criteria for Biofuels and Bio-liquids, with a threshold of 35% savings of Greenhouse-Gas (GHG) emissions, and excludes the use of specific land-use categories, such as primary forest, highly bio-diverse grassland, wetlands and peatlands.

A number of reporting requirements for the European Commission are also included in the RED Directive as well as in the "Fuel Quality Directive" (so called FQD Directive, 2009/30/EC). Requirements address, amongst others, the assessment of GHG emissions from direct and Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC), N2O emissions, soil carbon stock changes, definition of degraded lands, and updating and implementation of new biomass pathways calculations.

The sustainability assessment must include other topics, which may have positive or negative impacts on biofuel policies in tropical countries: including soil quality, water footprint, air quality, food prices and farm incomes amongst others.

The RED also requires an assessment of current and future production of second generation biofuels. Although second (and third) generation biofuels are believed to offer sustained GHG advantages while reducing pressure on natural resources, the difficulty of converting the ligno-cellulosic feedstock into liquid fuels makes the conversion more expensive. Research and development on second-generation technologies is therefore still necessary.

The JRC experience shows that it is fundamental to tackle policy questions related to the production and use of biofuels with an integrated approach. A multi-annual Biofuels Thematic Programme was established in 2009 to provide up-to-date analyses over a wide spectrum of related topics. This approach involves scientists from four JRC Institutes (IET – lead- IES, IPSC, IPTS) and offers independent scientific advice to policy makers,

The Thematic Programme has been extended as a Coordinating Action in 2012 and it provides support to the European Commission in fulfilling its legal obligations regarding biofuels with respect to the implementation and reporting requirements of the RED and FQD Directives. Its work-plan develops along two lines:   

1. Sustainability assessment
This work package focuses on the analysis of sustainability criteria. Questions of land use and indirect land use changes associated with biofuel production (all production pathways of relevance to Europe) and associated GHG emissions have priority (through modelling, observations, literature review, calculations, experimental measurements etc.). Quantification of GHG emissions from agricultural soils, farming, yield intensification, biofuels production and life cycle of biofuel/biomass pathways is here of particular relevance.  Soil degradation, maintenance of biodiversity, impact on water resources are also included in the analysis.

2. Technological assessment
This work package focuses the development of second generation biofuels with respect to the monitoring of technological progress, process optimisation, compatibility with new vehicle/engine technologies and performance of new fuels.
Technological developments in industrial biofuel production systems are systematically integrated in revisions of the JEC Well-to-Wheel analyses.
The compatibility of biofuels with advanced engines and after-treatment devices, and the consequent impact on exhaust emissions, is also investigated. Energy efficiency and environmental impact of vehicles powered with biofuel blends are assessed through tests and analysis in JRC facilities.