Government's green transport partnership assesses pathways to 2020 target and beyond

Government can and must act to get sustainable biofuels back on track

The REA welcomes research published today by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) that assesses a range of scenarios for meeting the UK's 2020 renewable transport target [1]. This is an important step forward for the sustainable biofuels industry because the absence of a clear Government plan for meeting the 2020 renewable transport target has seen investment in the sector grind to a halt.

The Government had previously stated it would not increase the yearly biofuel mandates in its key biofuels policy, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO), beyond 2014 due to lingering uncertainty at EU level over a phenomenon called indirect land use change (ILUC). The EU Energy Council finally reached political agreement on accounting for ILUC in the EU policy framework last Friday [2], enabling the UK to move forward with expanding the RTFO.

The RTFO currently requires 4.75% of UK transport fuel to come from renewable sources (about 3% of transport energy), but Government has not set out an increasing requirement beyond 2013/14. The 2020 target is 10% transport energy from renewable sources, or approximately 13.5% of fuel from renewable sources. The two reports published today should give Government the evidence it needs to set out a yearly increase in the RTFO towards the 2020 target, so that businesses can again start investing in the sourcing and production of sustainable biofuels in the UK.

The table below shows the increasing trajectory of the RTFO since 2009, the current stagnation in the RTFO, and an illustrative trajectory to 2020 [3].

RTFO table

First report: Options and recommendations to meet the RED transport target

This report focuses on how Government can best achieve the 2020 target of 10% transport energy from renewable sources. The biggest contribution to renewable transport, both today and in the recommended option from the report's authors, comes from blending ordinary transport fuel with sustainable biofuel. Currently, ordinary diesel from the pump contains up to 7% biodiesel (B7) and ordinary petrol contains up to 5% bioethanol (E5).

Under the scenario recommended by the report's authors, the bioethanol blend would increase to 10% in accordance with the current fuel specification for petrol (E10). This option is considered preferable to other options, such as introducing new pumps for high-blend biodiesel (e.g. B30, B100) at truck and bus depots and/or new pumps for high-blend bioethanol at ordinary filling stations (e.g. E20, E85).

Under the recommended scenario, the 2020 10% renewable transport target would comprise:

o 3% from current generation biofuels

o 7% from double counted biodiesel from used cooking oil (UCO) and tallow

o 0.1% from biomethane and the share of renewable electricity powering electric vehicles.

Second report: A Fuel Roadmap for the UK

This report focuses on the role for advanced biofuels and electric vehicles in the 2020s and beyond. The underlying policy context in the UK for the long-term decarbonisation of the transport sector are the 2030 EU energy and climate change framework (expected to be agreed in October this year) and the 2008 UK Climate Change Act, which requires a near-total decarbonisation of the transport sector by 2050.

Advanced biofuels include bioethanol made from waste and non-food lignocellulosic material, biodiesel made from algae, biomethane for gas engine vehicles and HVO biodiesel, which can be used "neat" in diesel engines without the need for specific blend limits. For all these advanced biofuels, as well as current biofuels, the most important next step the Government can take is to increase the RTFO levels out to 2020. The 0.5% sub-target for advanced biofuels agreed in the EU ILUC package could also provide impetus for the development of advanced biofuels in Europe.

According to the report's authors, in the 2020s two separate factors are expected to enable electric vehicles to make a significant contribution to renewable transport energy. Firstly, the technology and infrastructure for electric vehicles is expected to become more widespread and cost-effective. Secondly, the share of renewable electricity in the UK grid (e.g. biomass, solar, wind, wave and tidal power) is expected to significantly increase.

REA Head of Renewable Transport Clare Wenner said:

"For investment and jobs in both current and advanced biofuels, the single most important step the Government can take is to set out a trajectory in the RTFO towards the 2020 target. The analyses published today should help kick-start the debate on how to do this in a way that maximises economic benefit for the UK and environmental benefit for us all.

"There's no time to wait, and now there's no need to wait. Government must seize this opportunity to get green transport back on track. UK biofuel producers achieve exceptional greenhouse gas savings and produce home-grown animal feed as well as sustainable biofuel. We do science and engineering very well in the UK, so with the right support for advanced biofuels, we could become a key player in this cutting-edge sector."

According to the REA's recent report REview – Renewable Energy View: 2014 the UK sustainable biofuels sector attracted £740 million of investment over the period 2010-13 (in spite of ongoing policy uncertainty) and currently supports 3,510 jobs and 200 companies across the supply chain [4].

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