Step change in research intensity needed to meet biofuel targets, Commission says

October 27, 2006

Brussels, 26 October 2006

'Europe can only achieve its bioenergy and biofuel targets with a step-change in research intensity investment and effective technology transfer,' said Christian Patermann, Director of Biotechnology, Agriculture and Food Research at the European Commission's Research Directorate-General.

Biofuel is any fuel that is derived from biomass (recently living organisms or their metabolic byproducts, such as manure from cows). Through a biorefinery process, feedstocks such as sugar, wheat and corn are turned into a renewable energy source that is environmentally friendly, unlike other natural resources such as petroleum, coal and nuclear fuels. Biofuel is also produced from wood using a gasification technology (second generation biofuel).

Speaking on behalf of the European Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik to participants at a European conference on biorefinery research in Helsinki, Mr Patermann said that biofuels ticked many of the right boxes in terms of Europe's energy needs. 'Biofuels can be produced in Europe, so it ticks the security of supply box. Biofuels are imported from different countries than those supplying oil, so it ticks the diversification of supply box. Biofuels seem to be the only carbon-efficient alternative we have in the short to medium term, so it ticks the reduction of greenhouse gases box,' said Mr Patermann.

In 2003, an EU directive called for an increase in the share of biofuels used in road transport from 0.8% to 5.75% by 2010. The EU transport sector accounts for more than 30% of the total energy consumption in the Community and is 98% dependent on fossil fuels. It is expected that 90% of the increase of CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2010 will be attributable to transport.

Europe has already taken some steps to move over to biofuels. Its biodiesel production has grown from 55,000 tonnes in 1992 to more than three million tonnes in 2005, while bio-ethanol has witnessed an increase from 47,500 tonnes produced in 1993 to over 700,000 tonnes in 2005. However, the overall production of liquid biofuels in the EU-25 is too low, standing at just two million tonnes of oil equivalent (Mtoe), less than 1% of the market. Given this current market share, the EU policy target of reaching18 Mtoe of biofuels in the transport sector by 2010 looks doubtful.

In its 2005 Biomass Action Plan, the Commission outlined ways to help increase the production of energy from forestry, agriculture and waste materials in order to meet these EU's renewable energy targets. It recommended, among other measures, more investment in research, in particular in making liquid fuels out of wood and associated biomass. In 2006, the Commission also called for an increase in research into second generation biofuels in its EU Strategy for Biofuels.

Agreeing with the need to increase research, Mr Patermann pointed to the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), where he said advanced biofuels and biorefineries were considered priority areas for research. In addition, four European Technology Platforms (ETPs) in the areas of sustainable chemistry, plants for the future, sustainable forestry and biofuels would provide key input for FP7. 'This should lead to developing a new and substantial market for innovative 'green' products or processes, create new jobs and increase European competitiveness; in short, they should lead to the development of the knowledge based bio economy,' he said.

As for the future, Mr Patermann said that the Commission was currently analysing what the research needs of agriculture will be by 2015-2020 'But we must do more,' he said, urging for a holistic approach to be taken to intensify research and ensure technology transfer. 'We can't just look at this issue from the narrow perspective of individual scientific disciplines. Or single policy areas. It affects people and areas across the board: from agriculture to research and innovation, from trade to transport, from energy to environment,' concluded Mr Patermann.

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