How a Biofuels Phase-Out Would Hit Europe’s Struggling Farmers
by Mark Chesworth (Vivergo Fuels/Politico) Growers in the EU are helping meet climate and energy goals. Don’t abandon them now — Biofuels are essential for meeting EU climate and energy goals by helping to decarbonize transport, but they are also of vital importance for Europe’s farmers.
The production of biofuels contributes at least €6.6 billion in direct revenue per year to EU farmers. European ethanol — a low-carbon renewable fuel that can be mixed with petrol — is produced from plants containing sugar or starch such as feed-grade wheat, corn and sugar beets grown in Europe. As such, it is a key market for Europe’s farmers, many of whom rely on it as a primary source of income.
But ethanol’s importance to agriculture — and its usefulness in the drive for EU decarbonization — is now under threat from a lack of government support at EU and U.K. level. The Commission’s recent proposal to phase out conventional biofuels would unravel market support for ethanol production, a move that couldn’t come at a worse time for struggling European farmers.
In 2015, Europe’s ethanol and biodiesel producers bought 28 million tonnes of feedstock from farmers across the continent, delivering a key revenue lifeline of almost €7 billion. At our Vivergo Fuels biorefinery in Hull, U.K., we use 1.1 million tonnes of locally grown feed-quality wheat sourced from almost 900 farms an average distance of 55km from Hull, making us the largest single “tip point”, as well as the U.K.’s largest brewery. Our biorefinery supports the regional economy further by employing more than 110 local people and indirectly supporting around 3,000 more in one of the U.K.’s least economically developed regions.
Food and fuel
In Europe, virtually all (99.7 percent) the crops used to produce ethanol are grown in sustainable conditions within the continent using less than 1 percent of EU agricultural land — it is a home-grown solution. Across Europe, only 2 percent of Europe’s total cereals are used to produce ethanol — not enough to have any negative impact on the market or food prices. In fact, the global price of cereals has dropped by 40 percent since 2008 — during a period of unprecedented expansion of global biofuels production and the introduction of the EU’s biofuels policy.
In the absence of this domestic supply, farmers would be forced to source high-protein feed elsewhere, most commonly imported soy products from South America, which have their own sustainability issues and involve high transport costs. READ MORE and MORE (ePURE)