15 Apr 2015   |   News

Agreement to limit use of crops as feedstock for biofuels

Politicians have approved a cap on the volume of biofuel from agricultural crops that can be used for transport

EU politicians voted to limit the use of food crops in biofuels on Tuesday, putting a ceiling of 7 per cent on the volume of crop-based biofuels that can be used for transport in Europe.

Materials from trees to shrubs, grasses, fungi, algae and animal fats have been turned into biofuels to power cars, ships and even planes. But diverting food crops to make fuel has provoked controversy, driving up food prices and giving biofuels a bad name.

The EU will now stick to promoting advanced biofuels, which are still at an experimental stage. The compromise text acknowledged that, “They are currently not commercially available in large quantities, in part due to competition for public subsidies with established food crop-based biofuel technologies”.

Reactions 

Not everyone was happy with the deal. Green campaigners complained it does not go far enough and Green politicians voted en masse against it. Other members of the assembly argued that implementing the quota would erase jobs in the biofuels industry.

One Green representative from the Netherlands, Bas Eickhout, said, “We should be shunning the use of food crops for fuel altogether but a 7 per cent 'cap' is clearly too high and will allow for further increasing the large share of climate-damaging biofuels in our fuel mix.” 

The EU’s promotion of crop-based biofuels has had the unintended side-effect of releasing more carbon emissions, as the greater demand for feedstock has resulted in forests being flattened to give way to agricultural land.

Seb Dance, a British politician sitting with the centre-left bloc, was not entirely happy either, despite voting in favour of the deal. "We would have liked to go further, but given the lack of cooperation in the Council [which represents member states], we felt that this was the best possible deal at the moment,” he said. 

Marc-Olivier Herman, a biofuels expert at the charity Oxfam, called the deal a first step. “Europe must phase out these fuels completely so they can no longer jeopardise food security and contribute to climate change,” he wrote.

The environment committee, known as ENVI, had 51 of its members vote in favour of a cap, with 12 against and one abstention.

The agreement still needs to be approved by the full assembly during the 27-30 April plenary session in Strasbourg, which is expected to be a formality. 

Never miss an update from Science|Business:   Newsletter sign-up