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Biofuels in the EU

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

Recent years have demonstrated the burgeoning of biofuels activity around the world. Many countries have developed their own mandates and subsequent biofuel policies, while others are considering the possibilities. The 2008 and 2011 surges in fossil fuel prices have helped to foster a global willingness to find new solutions for sustainable transport.

Europe is undoubtedly one of the most active regions in this sector. In order to facilitate the development of renewable energy, the EU has drawn up a comprehensive long term framework of targets. 

Biofuels and the fuel market

Of late, the pervasive feeling within EU member states and the oil industry is that biofuels will increasingly be considered essential for sustainable mobility. Higher incorporation is undoubtedly necessary to achieve the 2020 targets, but offering biofuels with properties that meet the market needs should be considered crucial. Meeting the market demand for diesel and biodiesel while managing a fast decrease of gasoline consumption (down 6.2 % in France in 2010) will present a significant challenge for European refining and biofuel industries.

Recent trends in Europe

The introduction of an E10 grade (gasoline with up to 10% ethanol) began in 2009 in France and in January 2011 in Germany. Yet this new grade of fuel was not received positively by consumers in either country.

In order to prevent too much farmland/crops from being devoted to biofuel production instead of food, the EU opted to promote the use of wastes, residues and lignocellulosic material by making biofuels derived from these feedstocks count for double their real energy value. As a result, used cooking oil methyl esters (UCOME) and tallow methyl esters (TME) have arrived on the market in growing quantities.

New biofuels have arrived on the market in recent years, including hydrotreated vegetable oil and bioMTBE. Others are under development. This fast changing regulatory environment has ensured a mercurial market.

Sustainability of biofuels

The sustainability of biofuels looks set to be a hot topic for discussion in 2011. In order to address criticism from environmentalists, the EU introduced RED, which delineates a set of criteria and several provisions to ensure that fuel suppliers can prove the sustainability of biofuels.

Long term trends

There is a widely held feeling that the oil and biofuel industries have reached a defining period in their development. Large oil organisations are making strategic moves towards advanced biofuels technology. Several majors are securing access to competitive feedstock.

The full article from the European Biofuels Technology Platform can be found in the June 2011 issue of Hydrocarbon Engineering.

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