There is a general agreement in policy and the public that the production of biomass and biofuels must be sustainable. As a means to achieve this, the German Federal Government has passed a (draft) biofuel sustainability ordinance. Under this ordinance, biofuel producers will in future enjoy fiscal and administrative support only if certain sustainability criteria are adhered to.
The recent EC proposal for a Renewable Energies Directive goes in the same direction. Sustainable production is envisaged to become a prerequisite for grants and for accepting contributions to the EU biofuel targets.
It is planned to use certification systems to verify whether the requirements were complied with. However, the development of such systems is proving to be very demanding. While studies on aspects of sustainability are numerous, ideas involving their practical implementation remain scarce.
In 2007, the Cologne-based consultancy méo presented the results of a BMELV -funded project. The proposal focuses on certificates which guarantee that sustainability standards are kept in the production of biofuels and the relevant raw materials and specific GHG emissions occurring along the value chain can be calculated .
The concept developed by meó in cooperation with several companies and institutions has now been worked out to pilot stage. Practical use during the two-year pilot phase will show how workable the concept now is, and pinpoint any aspects in need of optimisation.
In addition to the EU, some important suppliers of raw materials are included in the field test, namely Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia.
meó is responsible for the management of the project, but is collaborating with companies from agriculture, trade, biofuel industry, automotive and oil industries as well as research and environmental institutions. NGO contribution to the development of the certification system is also desired and scheduled.
The BMELV-funded pilot phase can be divided into six work packages:
· Selecting an appropriate certification method to ensure sustainability along
the entire value chain (national and international processes)
· Verification of GHG emissions along the value chain
· Establishing instruments for verification monitoring
· Developing a meta system in order to integrate other certification systems
· Developing and implementing minimum standards for certification, each
tailored to the region and resource in question
· Examining the interaction of the different system components
“I suspect this project is currently the most advanced proposal to prove compliance with sustainability requirements. At the same time, it is comprehensive enough to include not only most of the important producer countries, but also covers the entire list of important raw materials, i.e. soy bean, sugar cane, oil palms, maize, rapeseed, wheat and sugar beet”, Andreas Schütte, managing director of Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (FNR) explains. FNR, the BMELV’s funding agency, is supporting the project.
“All the same, it will be important to apply these sustainability requirements to all other industries using agricultural resources as well, not just biofuels“, Schütte emphasises. “Otherwise, we will only move the problem to another sector. Biofuels from plant oil may then be sustainable, but food or chemicals production may move to rainforest areas instead.”
Thus, while a great deal of work remains ahead, hopes are high that, in future, compliance with sustainability standards can be proven in a reliable way.
Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe (FNR) e.V. supports and manages research, development and market introduction projects on behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV).