The European transport sector


In Europe, the transport sector uses 31% of EU energy consumption. It is 94% dependent on oil and consumption has steadily grown until 2007 and since then it has fallen in a 8%by some 50% between 1985 and 1998. 

According to Eurostat latest data, the share of biofuels in the transport sector by 2012 was a 5,1%, far away from 10% goal in 2020 established in the Renewable Energy Directive.

This follows on from the previous objectives of 2% and 5.75% for the years 2005 and 2010 respectively which were supported by a specific directive (Directive 2003/30/EC).  The target for 2010 wasc not met by 1 point. However, there is considerable room for growth in some member states, particularly, Sweden, Germany, France and Austria. The reform and approbation of Directives 2009/28/EC and 2009/30/EC shalll give a new boost to biofuels, specially advanced ones. 

Stemming from programmes launched at the end of the 1970s to help ease the crush on petrol prices, biofuels have been in a significant phase of industrial development since the mid 1990s. Their success can be explained not only by the fact that they can be substituted for hydrocarbons, but also because of the environmental advantages offered by their consumption in the transportation sector.


Biofuels drivers include:


  •     Increase of security of energy supply;
  •     Reduction of dependence on fossil fuels;
  •     Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions e.g. CO2;
  •     Reduction local air pollution;
  •     Protection of soil and groundwater through the use of biodegradable products;
  •     Reduction of health hazards by using non-toxic products.


Biofuel Controversy:


There is great political and media attention now focused on biofuels and the issues related to food security, food prices, effects on biodiversity and perceived CO2 emission advantages over fossil fuels. Provided that farmers and plant operators adopt sustainable energy crop production, thoughtful management & planning as well as sourcing (where available) energy needs for biofuel production from waste plant residues, then there should be no negative environmental effect. On the other hand job creation and the development of rural economies is an important benefit of biofuel production. Furthermore, advanced biofuels are starting to be produced in a profitable manner and more research and technological advances will make them more competitive.


Sustainable Criteria


The EC has established a set of sustainability criteria in the Energy and Climate Package, which follows on from the Renewable Energy Roadmap. Articles 17, 18 and 19 of Directive 2009/28EC forbid the use of lands with high biodiversity, land with high carbon stock, or establish the minimum greenhouse gas savings. These criteria apply since December 2010. Moreover, the EC supports the creation of private volunteer sustainability scheemes, essential in order to be counted for the national goals and be qualified to receive government support. Currently the Commission has approbed 17. The revision of Directive 2009/28/EC shall increase this criteria and take into consideration the issue of Indirect Land Use Change. 


The European biofuel sector


The European biofuel industry is mainly made up of two distinct sectors, ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is obtained from fermenting beets, corn, barley or wheat, which are used for their sugar content that can be transformed into alcohol. Ethanol can be used directly as a fuel in its own right and as a petrol additive such as ETBE (ethyl tertiary butyl ether).

Biodiesel (or FAME – fatty acids methyl ester) is produced from rapeseed or sunflower for use as an additive to diesel fuel. In 2011, the production of biodiesel in the EU27 came to 8,607,000 tonnes, with the majority of production coming from Germany (2,800,000 tonnes, EBB 2011). 

Bioethanol is produced by distillation from crops such as wheat, corn, sugar cane and sugar beet. In Europe, wheat is the main crop grown for bioethanol. Its production raised to 6,7 billion litres in 2013.

In terms of domestic usage the combined European (EU-27) consumption of both of these sectors represented 13,615,000 ktoe (tonnes of oil equivalent) in 2013 (EUR-ObservER, 2014), with a strong prominence of biodiesel which represents 79% of European biofuel consumption and 19,9% in the case of bioethanol. The overall figures represent a growth of 28% between 2008 and 2013.


European regulatory framework


A precise regulatory framework for biofuel development in Europe exists since the beginning of the 1990s. The first measures date from 1992 with a section of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) that gave member States the possibility of growing non-food crops on fallow lands and exempting biofuels from taxes in respect of price competition. The principle of each country being assigned production quotas dates back to this same period and it still in use for some of the member States. In 2003, European texts appeared that reinforced the conditions of development of the biofuels sector. The first was the directive 2003/30/CE of 8 May 2003 that targeted promoting the use of biofuels in transportation. In the end of 2007, the European Commission presented its Climate and Energy package which contained Directives 2009/28/EC on Renewable Energies and 2009/30/EC on Fuel Quality. They stablished a 10% goal of renewable energies share in the final consumption in the transport sector by 2020 and the reduction of greenhouse gas intensity in fuels of a 10% by 2020 too.

In February 2006, the Commission released the EU Strategy for Biofuels which contained further specification following on from the Biomass Action Plan (BAP), released in December 2005. The report is based upon a threefold objective: further promotion of biofuels in the EU and in developing countries, preparation for the large-scale use of biofuels, and heightened cooperation with developing countries in the sustainable production of biofuels. In 2009 Fuel Quality and Renewable Energy Directives enter into force, establishing goals and governance system, setting up sustainability criteria, promoting private scheemes and defining the rules that might apply the national support for renewables.  Moreover, the EC also proposed a revision of the 2003 Energy Taxation Directive in order to define new rules aim to restructure the way energy products are taxed to remove current imbalances and take into account both their CO2 emissions and energy content. The lack of consensus within the Council has stopped this revision.  


Most promising bio-fuels for transport


  • Biodiesel is a methyl-ester produced from vegetable or animal oil, of diesel quality to be used as biofuel. Note the difference with pure vegetable or animal oil, which can be used in adapted diesel engines as well. Application: compression-ignition engines.
  • Pure vegetable oil is oil produced from oil plants through pressing, extraction or comparable procedures, crude or refined but chemically unmodified, when compatible with the type of engines involved and the corresponding emission requirements. Applications: direct use in adapted CI-engines.
  • Bioethanol is ethanol produced from biomass and/or the biodegradable fraction of waste, to be used as biofuel. Bio-ethanol can be produced from any biological feedstock that contains appreciable amounts of sugar or other matter that can be converted into sugar, such as starch or cellulose. Also ligno-cellulosic materials (wood and straw) are often hinted at, but their processing into bio-ethanol is more expensive. Application: Spark ignition (SI) engines.
  • Bio-ETBE (ethyl-tertio-butyl-ether) is ETBE produced on the basis of bioethanol. The percentage by volume of bio-ETBE that is calculated as bio-fuel is 47%. Application: SI-engines (blends with petrol).
  • Biogas is a fuel gas produced from biomass and/or the biodegradable fraction of waste, that can be purified to natural gas quality, to be used as biofuel, or wood gas. This definition covers two main gases derived from different processes:


  •    Methane rich (55-60% by volume) gas produced by means of anaerobe digestion of wet biomass.
  •    Carbon monoxide rich gas made via thermal gasification. Also some hydrogen and methane are present in this gas type.
  •    Methane rich gas made via thermal gasification, followed by a methane shift reaction. After de-sulphurisation, biogas can be used directly to fuel adapted SI and CI engines. Alternatively methane can be separated out from       biogas to be fed into the distribution grid for natural gas, and thus it could be used as a transport fuel in the same manner as fossil compressed natural gas. Application: SI-engines.


  •     Bio-methanol is methanol produced from biomass, to be used as biofuel. Methanol can be produced from syngas (a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen). Virtually all syngas for conventional methanol production is produced by steam reforming of natural gas into syngas. In the case of bio-methanol, a biomass is gasified first to produce a syngas from which the bio-methanol is produced. Application: SI engines (blended with petrol), CI- engines (pure), fuel cells.
  •     Bio-MTBE (methyl-tertio-butyl-ether) is a fuel produced on the basis of biomethanol. The percentage by volume of bio-MTBE that is calculated as biofuel is 36%. Application: SI-engines (blends with petrol).
  •     Biodimethylether (DME) is dimethylether produced from biomass, to be used as biofuel. Bio-DME can be formed from syngas by means of oxygenate synthesis. It has emerged only recently as an automotive fuel option. Storage capabilities are similar to those of LPG. Application: CI-engines.
  •     Synthetic biofuels are synthetic hydrocarbons or mixtures of synthetic hydrocarbons, which have been produced from biomass. This broad definition includes Fischer-Tropsch Diesel which is manufactured from syngas, using a large-scale production process. Syngas is usually produced from coal or natural gas via auto-thermal reforming, but can also be derived via gasification of biomass or gasification of pyrolysis oil. The process was applied in times of mineral oil scarcity. Application: CI-engines.
  •     Bio-hydrogen is hydrogen produced from biomass, and/or from the biodegradable fraction of waste, to be used as biofuel. Application: fuel cells.