EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has defended the setting of specific biofuel usage targets, describing them as a “bridge” to the next generation of biofuel products.

Addressing a seminar organised by the European Policy Centre in Brussels this week, she criticised the media who had made biofuels a “scapegoat” in the storm about rising food prices.

There were many factors at play, including the huge increase in demand for meat in emerging countries like China and India, and the impact of bad weather which had led to two years of poor harvests.

Biofuels had a crucial role to play, she said, in reducing pollution and improving fuel security.

Setting targets

To generate a viable industry, the EU Commission was right to set a target of 10% inclusion of biofuels in its transport fuel by 2020.

“With this target, we can already start getting benefits from the better first-generation biofuels. And we can use them as a bridge to take us to the next generation,” she said.

“I underline the importance of that bridge. A stable market can cut down the considerable risks faced by potential investors in second-generation fuels. Also, production facilities for some advanced fuels could be built as extensions to first-generation plants.”

First-generation biofuels

Mrs Fischer Boel stressed that the EU Commission was very mindful of the environmental impact of some first-generation biofuels.

“It’s because of anxieties like these that the Commission has proposed a safeguard: a given biofuel would count towards a Member State’s target only if it made a greenhouse gas saving of at least 35% compared to fossil fuels.”

Many first-generation fuels already scored well above 35%, she said, with biodiesel made from EU rapeseed offering a 44% saving and imported sugarcane-based biofuel reaching 74%.

Mrs Fischer Boel explained that these calculations factored in the greenhouse gas emissions caused by direct land conversion, but not indirect land conversion. “We take this issue very seriously.”

Furthermore, no biofuel would count towards a Member State’s usage target without meeting strict sustainability criteria. Biofuels made from feedstock coming from land with a high biodiversity value or high carbon stocks would be excluded.