In the context of the upcoming 21st International Conference on Renewable Mobility, held on 22nd and 23rd January in Berlin, Artur Auernhammer, German Bioenergy Association (BBE) Chairman, presents a highly critical appraisal of the statutory provisions currently being discussed at national and EU level. He explains the future challenges that renewable fuels face in an increasingly complex regulatory and market environment:
“Certified sustainable biofuels have contributed reliably for years to greenhouse gas reductions and helped safeguard fuel supplies, yet the German Ministry for the Environment (BMUV) nonetheless regularly attempts to undermine the number one tool for climate action in the mobility sector, purely for ideological reasons and without any technical justification. Although last year the coalition partners thwarted the BMUV’s plans to reduce the upper limit for biofuels from cultivated biomass, the initial drafts for the National Biomass Strategy (NABIS) recently made public show that the ministry is once again pushing this initiative, along with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs, seeking to put the issue back on the political agenda. We therefore urge German Environment Minister Steffi Lemke to acknowledge that sustainable biofuels are indispensable for climate change mitigation in the transport sector and at the same time reduce our dependency on oil imports from high-risk areas.”
He goes on to note that politicians should focus on developing the statutory framework for sustainability certification to establish an international level playing field and create fitting and impactful oversight options against the backdrop of problematic biodiesel imports from China.
Sustainable biofuels ensured almost 12 million tonnes of CO2 savings in 2022 (previous year: 11.1 million tonnes of CO2 saved), as shown in the most recent figures from the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food. Average greenhouse gas savings compared to fossil fuels rose from 84 to 87 per cent. As Auernhammer notes, this demonstrates that the greenhouse gas reduction quota works and fosters competition to achieve the largest reduction in CO2, irrespective of the technology deployed.
“Fully taxed renewable fuels have for years made a tangible and reliable contribution to climate change mitigation in the transport sector, without any direct state subsidies, whereas e-mobility has achieved scarcely any greenhouse gas reductions so far, despite enormous state subsidies. The race to meet the statutory climate action targets can only be won by drawing on all the options available. Given the tight government budget and with a view to efficient climate change mitigation for the transport sector, critics of biofuels should look reality in the face and recognise the overall contribution that biofuels and other fuel alternatives can make to protecting the climate in future. Rather than cutting back on them, we need significantly more sustainable renewable fuels.” Auernhammer cites the huge number of vehicles with combustion engines that will still be on the roads in 2030 and beyond. As the BBE Chairman underlines, biodiesel, bioethanol, and biomethane, along with other alternatives such as e-fuels, are crucial for climate-friendly, affordable mobility.
In 2023, for the third year in a row, the transport sector failed to meet the greenhouse gas reduction target stipulated in the German Climate Change Act, a clear indication that measures to mitigate climate change have not yet gone far enough.
Auernhammer criticises other aspects of national biofuel policy too: “The German government is good at putting obstacles in the way of our domestic industry; one example is the deliberately delayed introduction of the higher mandatory greenhouse gas reduction quota from 2024, reflecting growing use of electricity in the transport sector. That wastes potential to cut greenhouse gases, at the expense of climate action; increasing the greenhouse gas reduction quota to over 9.25 per cent, as stipulated in the legislation, would boost the impact of renewable fuels on climate change mitigation!”
The BBE Chairman is optimistic about upcoming national implementation of the Renewable Energy Directive [(EU) 2023/2413 - RED III], which has been reworked as part of the European Green Deal: “RED III stipulates that by 2030, Member States must either use 29 per cent renewable energy in the transport sector or achieve a greenhouse gas reduction of at least 14.5 per cent compared with fossil fuels. In Germany, we already have experience with the greenhouse gas reduction quota as an option for meeting the targets.”
Auernhammer also calls for urgent action from the German Ministry for the Environment (BMUV) to ensure more stringent yardsticks for product inspections. Since early 2023, there have been imports of supposedly advanced biodiesel from China on a huge scale into the EU and Germany in particular. However, industry experts have serious doubts that the imported biofuels are produced from the residues and waste materials in question (e.g. soap stock, spent bleaching earth (SBE) oil, food waste sludge, crude glycerine and brown grease). There are instead suspicions that the import declarations are falsified and that these products are in fact biodiesel from palm oil, which since 2023 can no longer be credited towards the German greenhouse gas reduction quota. The BBE Chairman is critical: “For over a year, the BMUV has simply stood and watched as Germany is flooded with products suspected to be erroneously declared as advanced biodiesel. It almost seems that this suits the ministry. It is completely incomprehensible that the German government is not exerting more influence on the European Commission and doing everything it can in Germany, within its sphere of responsibility, to shed light on and ultimately end suspected fraud with biodiesel imports.”
Auernhammer underlines that it is also vital to put a stop to climate change mitigation fraud with virtual crediting: “We are calling on the German government to act immediately to stop permitting double crediting for over-fulfilment of the advanced biofuels sub-quota if the fuel producer or country of origin does not allow effective witness audits by the competent national authorities. In addition, the relevant biomass codes should be suspended for imports from countries in which producers are suspected of fraud. In the medium term, registration procedures for imports of advanced biofuels could help to prevent fraud before it occurs.
The biofuel industry and decision-makers from the worlds of politics, research and industry will discuss these issues, along with many other relevant topics concerning biofuels, biomethane and e-fuels, at the conference. The full programme for the 21st International Congress for Renewable Mobility “Fuels of the Future 2024” on 22nd and 23rd January 2024 at CityCube in Berlin and information on registration can be found at: https://www.fuels-of-the-future.com/en.