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News 1876 views last update:14 Jan 2016

Study: European rapeseed below EU sustainability requirements

A recent study indicates that the EU’s renewable energy strategy is helping boost European rapeseed growers; despite analysis showing that the crop is unlikely to meet EU sustainability requirements.

Under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED), biofuels are recognised if greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) during their production and use are less than 35% of those emitted during the production and use of conventional fossil fuels.

If biofuels meet this threshold, they can be classified as ‘sustainable’, and therefore eligible for the EU’s mandatory blending scheme.

Biofuel made from European grown rapeseed crops meet this threshold. According to the RED analysis, typical greenhouse gas emissions savings for rapeseed oil is 45%.

The inclusion of biofuel came much to the relief of European rapeseed producers. According to the FAO, Europe production accounted for almost 40% of all rapeseed produced in 2010.

Certainly rapeseed growers have prospered from inclusions under the directive. This has driven speculation that political pressure - rather than strict scientific analysis - justified rapeseed biodiesel’s greenhouse gas savings.

It has been noted that rapeseeds largest competitors such as lower-cost palm oil did not meet requirements under EU analysis.

Below standards
But the new study suggests that rapeseed does not in fact meet RED requirements. It found that under most scenarios, rapeseed biodiesel did not reach the 35% threshold required by the EU Directive for being considered as sustainable biofuel.

In the standard scenario, the authors calculated a GHG emissions saving value of less than 30%; far below the 35% threshold.

The results from the study indicate that the ‘sustainability’ of rapeseed biodiesel, as recognised by RED, “is at best very questionable and in most scenarios simply unjustifiable”.

The study also challenged the transparency of the EU Commission, who did the original analysis of GHG savings across a range of biofuels. 

According to the authors, the EU refused to release all its data, driving speculation that data on rapeseed oil’s GHG savings was deliberately over-stated.

According to news reports, the authors have suggested that EU biofuels policy is closer to ‘industrial policy’, which excludes imports of competing biofuels in order to support European industry.

Allison Winstanley

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