European Report on Biodiesel GHG Emissions is Flawed

By Ron Kotrba | May 19, 2010
Through a Freedom of Information request, Reuters obtained and reported in April on a European study "that claimed biodiesel from North American soybeans has an indirect carbon footprint of 339.9 kilograms of CO2 per gigajoule-four times higher than standard diesel-an annex that was controversially stripped from a report published in December," Reuters stated.

The European study focused on a number of other issues besides biodiesel, including the common agriculture policy, the EU emissions trading scheme and more.

A representative of the European Biodiesel Board told Biodiesel Magazine that the report quantifies the effects on greenhouse gas emissions of selected EU climate change policies and measures, and "does not cover our main biofuels legislation, Directive 2009/28/EC adopted last year, but merely our old biofuels directive."

The EBB representative added, "We understand that in assessing this older biofuels legislation, the consultants tried to evaluate potential indirect land use change (ILUC) impacts. Since no data or methodology was available, this was done in a very simplistic way, using a risk factor approach. In other words, if the risk factor is assumed to be 25 percent, the ILUC impact is X, and if the risk factor is 75 percent, the ILUC impact is Y. This 'risk factor' methodology explained why the consultants ended up with such incredibly high emission factors for biodiesel. Ultimately, it was considered as completely arbitrary and removed from the final study. Overall, this exercise has nothing to do with the current modeling exercise on ILUC conducted by the European Commission."

A representative with the German oilseed promotion council (UFOP) told Biodiesel Magazine that in this study, ILUC has been taken into account although there is no accepted method, even among scientists. "The ILUC factor of the Ecoinstitute in Germany, which is used in this study, is not correct," the source said. "This is because it does not take into account the replacements effects within a region. For example, although about 3 to 4 million hectares within the EU are used for rape methyl ester production, we have a tremendous overshoot of cereals. The methodology approach of the Ecoinstitute leads to the situation that ILUC in Indonesia is lower than in the EU."

The UFOP source went on to say, "The experience of the institutes involved in this study is also questionable-especially the German Fraunhofer Institute. I could not find any corresponding references on the Web site of this Institute."

One of the key sentences in the study is that biodiesel from European rapeseed has an indirect carbon footprint of 150.3 kg of CO2 per gigajoule. "In the EU's Renewable Energy Directive, the dimension is: gCO2/MJ," the source said. "But kg and gigajoule sounds worse."

In response to this study and its purported findings, Don Scott, director of sustainability with the National Biodiesel Board, said, "Sustainability is a priority for our industry. The EPA process to conclusively establish GHG emission from soy biodiesel is the largest effort in history to quantify the benefit of biodiesel in a comprehensive way. This was also an open process with public stakeholder and expert involvement. It affirmed biodiesel's benefit over petroleum, including soy biodiesel. The European estimates were biased to European products, and did not follow proper life-cycle analysis for U.S. products."
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