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What’s your first-generation biofuels literacy?

By Géraldine Kutas posted Apr 22, 2017
On April 22, we celebrate International Mother Earth Day. Many people want to take action on that occasion by planting a tree or informing themselves on climate change solutions and environmental conservation. However, in today’s era of post-truth politics and information overload, we often struggle to make sound judgements about what is best for the environment and what is agenda-driven rhetoric. Same goes for lawmakers who are in charge of setting the policies that will lead us to a more environmentally friendly economy and lifestyle.


Icon of a globe with a leaf growing out of it. Today we celebrate International Mother Earth Day. A day when we  should all stop  and think of how the Earth’s ecosystems provide us with life and sustenance and try to also understand how our actions  impact the environment, and ultimately our survival. This year’s theme set by the UN - "Environmental & Climate Literacy" – couldn’t be timelier.

Many people want to take action on Earth Day by planting a tree or informing themselves on climate change solutions and environmental conservation. However, in today’s era of post-truth politics and information overload, we often struggle to make sound judgements about what is best for the environment  and what is agenda-driven rhetoric. Same goes for lawmakers who are in charge of setting the policies that will lead us to a more environmentally friendly economy and lifestyle.

A perfect example is the issue of conventional biofuels. First generation biofuels have become the victim of misinformation and emotional headlines stating that all food-based biofuels are responsible for hunger and deforestation. The fact is that not all conventional biofuels are created equal, and that climate change itself threatens food security and ecosystems far more than biofuels.

While countries around the world have made enormous strides towards fighting climate change, some of the proposed policies in Europe lack the supporting evidence to justify their adoption. For example, the new Renewables Energy Directive aims to cut the use of food-based biofuels from the current 7% to 3.8% by 2030. MEPs and EU Member States have already started examining the proposal. In the spirit of today’s theme, I urge them to consider the evidence that will help to better understand and inform the options that Europe has to reduce GHG emissions in transports, and reach its Paris Agreement targets. My hope is that the following undisputable facts serve to add sound science to the debate regarding first-generation biofuels, and in particular, one of the most sustainable and available alternatives to conventional gasoline – Brazilian sugarcane ethanol.

  • Brazilian sugar cane sold in Europe achieves among the highest GHG emission savings of all biofuels produced at scale: over 70% relative to fossil fuel alternatives and more than 55% when estimated ILUC emissions are accounted for.
  • It is sustainable throughout its full life-cycle. In sugarcane fields, carbon stocks amount to 60 tonnes of carbon per hectare (including above and below ground carbon stocks). Sugarcane only needs to be replanted about every six years which reduces tilling of land that releases carbon dioxide.
  • It has no role in the fuel vs food or deforestation debate. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is produced in biorefineries that generate sugar, clean fuel and bioelectricity. It occupies only 1.5% of all arable land in Brazil and is grown 2500 km away from the Amazon rainforest.

There is an urgent need to set the record straight, to listen to facts and not rhetoric, and to make logical choices for alternative fuels and the decarbonization of the transportation sector. Instead, the new Renewables Energy Directive has largely disregarded the evidence and intends to phase out first-generation biofuels completely. This effectively shuts the door to one of the cleanest and most sustainable energy sources to ensure low-emission mobility. 

Europe’s leaders often tout that the EU is a leader in the fight against climate change and environmental protection. However, the proposed biofuels legislation is in stark contrast to EU emission goals.  We should perhaps look outside our bubble and learn from other regions. Brazil has replaced more than 40% of its gasoline consumption with sugarcane ethanol, saving 370m tonnes of GHG emissions since 2003, and has done so in parallel with setting strict environmental laws to protect the tropical rainforest. The Agro-ecological Zoning for Sugarcane initiative limits the amount of land to be used for sugarcane to approximately 7.5% of Brazil’s territory, seven times more than what is currently used, and prohibits the clearance of native vegetation to expand sugarcane cultivation anywhere in the country.

Taking time to think about #EarthDay17 and all the benefits a clean environment provides, we should ask the critical questions regarding the choices Europe is making. In the name of "Environmental & Climate Literacy," these choices should be backed by evidence and not by false, emotional statements. As the UN puts it, “education is the foundation for progress,” and policy lacking scientific justification is the foundation for regression.

Not all biofuels are created equal...Thoughts on the proposed RED II

By Géraldine Kutas posted Mar 24, 2017
The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive represents a tremendous opportunity to foster the further development of clean energy in the European Union for decades to come. But the current proposal lacks ambition and is missing a key opportunity in helping to reach the Paris Agreement targets, especially with regards to the transportation sector.

The revision of the Renewable Energy Directive represents a tremendous opportunity to foster the further development of clean energy in the European Union (EU) for decades to come. The 2009 Directive has had a critical impact on increasing the share of renewables in the EU through binding targets, and a predictable overall framework for renewable energy implementation.

But the current proposal lacks ambition and is missing a key opportunity in helping to reach the Paris Agreement targets, especially with regards to the transportation sector, which accounts for almost a quarter of Europe’s GHG emissions. 

In my opinion, the critical flaws of the proposed Renewables Energy Directive as it stands are as follows:

  • The proposed target for renewables in transportation increases only 0.6% - from 10% currently to, in the best case scenario, 10.6% in 2030.
  • No distinction is made among conventional biofuels. Renewable fuels, which are sustainable and have superior environmental benefits, such as Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, are inappropriately lumped in with worse-performing biofuels.
  • Capping ALL conventional biofuels irrespective of their individual merits is not cost-effective or results-focused.
  • The technology needed to produce significant amounts of lignocellulosic biofuels at a commercial scale is not yet mature and the cost is very high – making the 3.6% target quite ambitious.

Brazilian sugarcane ethanol is classified as an advanced biofuel by the US EPA, and by California’s Air Resources Board, even when ILUC is considered. These are transparent, scientific and credible benchmarks. It achieves the highest GHG emission savings of all biofuels produced at scale (over 70% relative to fossil fuels, and more than 55% when accounting for ILUC emissions). We therefore call to distinguish biofuels based on GHG emissions savings, rather than on the feedstock used. More specifically, a strict sustainability criteria based on GHG emissions savings should be applied to all biofuels that are currently capped at 7%, and only those biofuels that fail to meet these criteria thresholds should be capped at 3.8% in 2030.

A complete overhaul of climate and energy policy is needed if we are to reach the ambitious EU emission reduction targets, and sustainable conventional biofuels need to play a key role. A comprehensive EU energy policy which incentivises and promotes sustainable conventional biofuels will help the EU to meet its key climate abatement and energy security objectives in 2030 and beyond.

Second-generation ethanol will not happen without a robust and healthy first-generation ethanol market to provide business certainty for the development of more advanced renewable fuels. We should and must think long-term and continue to invest in R&D, but we must also act now and consider and implement all of the available solutions in transitioning towards low-emission mobility. Brazilian sugarcane ethanol can provide the EU with environmentally-friendly transport fuel to help decarbonise road transport.

If Europe is to achieve its ambitious targets and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in transportation, the Commission should not pick winners. All sustainable alternatives should be promoted. 

Unintended Consequences from EPA Proposal Could Limit U.S. Access to Advanced Biofuels

By Leticia Phillips posted Feb 17, 2017
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has accepted comments on a proposal that would allow, among other things, biofuel producers to partially process renewable feedstocks at one facility and further process them into renewable fuels at another facility. EPA intends this broad rule to increase the economics and efficiency of producing biofuels, particularly advanced and cellulosic biofuels, a goal Brazil’s sugarcane biofuel producers broadly support.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has accepted comments on a proposal that would allow, among other things, biofuel producers to partially process renewable feedstocks at one facility and further process them into renewable fuels at another facility. EPA intends this broad rule to increase the economics and efficiency of producing biofuels, particularly advanced and cellulosic biofuels, a goal Brazil’s sugarcane biofuel producers broadly support. 

However, we are seriously concerned the proposal as currently written would upend nearly a decade of established practice and effectively prevent Americans from importing and using Brazilian sugarcane ethanol, one of the cleanest and most available advanced biofuels on the market, by changing how “biointermediates” are treated.

Since the beginning of the Renewable Fuel Standards (RFS) program, sugarcane ethanol has played a modest but important role supplying Americans with nearly 2 billion gallons of advanced biofuel. This important designation under the RFS indicates that a fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent compared to fossil fuels.

The troubling concern with EPA's proposal is characterizing undenatured imported ethanol, like sugarcane ethanol from Brazil, as a biointermediate product. Denaturing is the addition of chemicals to ethanol to ensure the alcohol is both not suitable for human consumption and clearly “marked” for use in automobile fuel tanks in the United States. For many technical and regulatory reasons, nearly all sugarcane ethanol leaves Brazil in an undenatured state and the denaturing chemicals are then added in the United States to comply with regulations set by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau of the U.S. Treasury Department. To underscore, this approach has worked well for the past decade without any reported cases of fraud that have hampered other parts of the RFS program.

Categorizing undenatured imported ethanol as a biointermediate will impose significant and costly new obligations that may be infeasible and unfair for Brazilian sugarcane producers to meet. The unintended consequence may be blocking American access to this important source of advanced biofuel, and would treat foreign products differently from domestic biofuel supplies.

We also believe EPA’s definition of biointermediate does not fit undenatured sugarcane ethanol. The Brazilian ethanol producing process does not involve “sequential” production of pre-processing feedstock at one facility and transportation to another nearby facility for the ultimate conversion to renewable fuel. Rather, the product exported to the United States is a finished product, not a feedstock. It is a liquid fuel that can be used, without further processing, for transportation. 

Formal comments from Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol producers urge EPA to clarify that the biointermediate definition does not include undenatured sugarcane ethanol fuel that is subsequently imported into the United States and denatured.  This exception will not alter the status quo for foreign ethanol producers, but would allow EPA to provide the biointermediate provisions to the few US-based producers to which they should logically apply.

Decarbonizing transport in a post-fact world

By Géraldine Kutas posted Feb 02, 2017
At Politico’s recent debate on decarbonizing Europe’s transport,Maroš Šefčovič said that there is an international consensus that first-generation biofuels should be phased out. This is simply not true. Many countries including Australia, Brazil and the US are all producers of 1G biofuels and have no intention of phasing out these important CO2-reducing petrol alternatives.

2016 was the warmest year on record since the industrial revolution. At Politico’s recent debate on decarbonizing Europe’s transport, that was held in Brussels, DuPont’s Jan Koninckx recognised that the most immediate way to decarbonise transport is through cleaner fuels.  He correctly said that if implemented, the European Commission’s proposed reduction of first-generation biofuels from 7% to a cap of 3.8% would result in increased European dependency on oil.

Maroš Šefčovič said, last week, that there is an international consensus that first-generation biofuels should be phased out. This is simply not true. Countries such as Australia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, India, Thailand and the US are all producers of first-generation biofuels and have no intention of phasing out these important CO2-reducing petrol alternatives. It is also important to note that none of these countries regard first- and second-generation biofuels as being in opposition with one another, as the European Commission seems to, but see them as complementary. This is exactly the spirit of the Biofuture Platform led by Brazil that was launched at COP22. The Biofuture Platform reflects the international consensus, and underscores the fact that the EU is, absurdly, the only major economy that is focused on phasing out first-generation biofuels.

This is precisely what Brazil’s Agriculture Minister emphasised during a recent roundtable discussion in Brussels. Brazil, Minister Maggi said, is committed to fighting climate change, and sugarcane ethanol is an important tool in its energy sustainability strategy. More than 40% of Brazil’s energy production comes from bioenergy and hydropower, and sugarcane is the number one source of renewable energy in the country. Minister Maggi advocated for the sustainability of first-generation biofuels, while welcoming the development of second-generation ethanol. He mentioned the Sugarcane Agro-Ecological Zoning, adopted in 2009, a law that prohibits the clearing of any type of native vegetation to plant sugarcane.

Vested interests in Europe are also pushing the falsehood that using first-generation biofuels means taking food from people’s mouths to run your car. This is a highly emotive accusation that has some European policymakers running scared. But while it makes a great headline, again, it is simply untrue. Swedish Minister for the Environment Karolina Skog said that she considered that differentiating conventional from advanced biofuels based on whether the feedstocks can be used to produce food is not an appropriate criterion, and does not make biofuels less or more sustainable. As Minister Maggi stated, there is absolutely no food-versus-fuel issue in Brazil in terms of the production of first-generation biofuels. Indeed, ethanol production accounts for only 1% of land use and Brazil is the world’s third largest agricultural product exporter.

Šefčovič has said that first-generation biofuels should be phased out, and has asked for innovation in the agriculture and chemical industries to deliver advanced biofuels. But the European Commission will not see the investments in second-generation biofuels it wants if policymakers do not also support traditional biofuels. You cannot kill the biofuels sector by eliminating first-generation biofuels and then expect it to rise miraculously phoenix-like from the ashes to deliver second-generation fuels.

If Europe is to achieve its ambitious targets and reduce its reliance on fossil fuels in transportation, the Commission should not pick winners. All the sustainable alternatives should be promoted and the proposed indiscriminate 3.8% cap on first-generation biofuels must be abandoned. 

The ‘year of delivery’ comes to an end

By Géraldine Kutas posted Dec 22, 2016
This is our last post of the year. 2016 will definitely go down in history as an eventful year, both on the political and policy levels. The Commission had promised us a ‘year of delivery’, and it did deliver indeed.

Dear readers,

This is our last post of the year. 2016 will definitely go down in history as an eventful year, both on the political and policy levels. I hope you will all get to disconnect from work, rest, and enjoy the Winter Holidays with families and friends.

The Commission had promised us a ‘year of delivery’, and it did deliver indeed. We hadn’t seen such an amount of proposals in years – this is likely to keep us busy through 2017 and beyond. It’s not all perfect, but we know what we have to work with now.

We often hear in Brussels that the Juncker Commission is very ‘political’. But the downside of being ‘political’ is that you can be tempted to shut an eye on the facts and give in to pure political considerations instead, regardless of the actual consequences. This is precisely what happened with biofuels in the proposed legislation on renewable energy, and the decision to significantly reduce the use of all first generation biofuels, regardless of their GHG emission performance.

So, in 2017 our job is going to be to try and put back some nuance into the proposed legislation for 2030. In particular, we are going to try and convince policymakers that a black and white approach to conventional biofuels, while easier to understand, will not solve the problem of transport emissions and might actually make it worse. The problem is that many policymakers are still ‘traumatized’ by the never-ending discussions around indirect land-use change and do not want to reopen the debate. NGOs on the other hand are trying to convince everyone that only e-mobility can reduce emissions in transport, and that biofuels consist in taking people’s food and running your car with it.

Reality is a bit different. Yes, there are some conventional biofuels whose sustainability is uncertain, but not all of them. You just need to have a look at the latest studies to see it (hint: one of these, known as ‘GLOBIOM’ was commissioned by… the Commission). And guess what: sugarcane ethanol is one of the most sustainable biofuels even when ILUC is considered. The problem is that the Commission felt under so much pressure from public opinion that it did not fight it and adopted instead this simplistic narrative. Now we have to go and explain to people that the most common misconceptions on biofuels are not always true, especially when it comes to sugarcane ethanol, and why the proposed policies have a big chance of backfiring.

Despite the task at hand, we are really looking forward to 2017. We will be hearing more about Mercosur too, with a first civil society meeting scheduled for mid-January and another round of negotiations in March. We’re hopeful that progress can be made on the deal over the next few months and will follow closely the debate.

Thanks again for reading us and have a nice holiday!

Many questions and not enough answers

By Géraldine Kutas posted Dec 07, 2016
Are we not losing sight of the main objective: reduce GHG emissions from transport? My feeling after having read and digested the new proposal on the Renewable Energy Directive is that by 2030 there will probably not be a massive change in how much we emit from our transportation activities.

Are we not losing sight of the main objective: reduce GHG emissions from transport?

My feeling after having read and digested the new proposal on the Renewable Energy Directive is that by 2030 there will probably not be a massive change in how much we emit from our transportation activities.

These are my doubts:

Trajectory is not realistic – I doubt that the trajectory proposed for the phase out of conventional biofuels will be actually feasible. Don’t take me wrong, I am very much in favour of advanced biofuels – some of UNICA’s members produce them – and I think it is good to have a specific sub-target for fuel suppliers. But, my question is: will advanced biofuels be able to replace the conventional biofuels at the rhythm foreseen by the Commission? I don’t think so! Advanced biofuels production often relies on conventional biofuels existing investment, infrastructures, biomass. This basis will not be there, after years of legislative instability and yet another change proposed last week, the situation is already looking gloomy. As a biofuel producer I would probably not dare to invest again in the sector under such premises.

Risk of more fossil fuels – In fact, I see the risk of more use of fossil fuels when conventional biofuels cannot be replaced with advanced!!! Certainly, it will not be electricity to come to the rescue. Also here, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think electric vehicles are in competition with biofuels. At least not in the foreseeable future! The Commission did not even go for a big push for electrification of transport as its recent narrative suggested. As I see it, we will end up, in perhaps other 20 years, with hybrid cars which can run with electricity and biofuels. Nor will come to the rescue other alternative fuels. Member States showed already during the negotiations on the Alternative Fuels infrastructure deployment directive, that they do not want to be told how to promote alternative fuels. So, no mandatory targets and national plans were to be submitted to the Commission on 18 November this year. We will have to wait until the end of the year to see how much countries are committed on this front.

GHG emission reduction target – I am very much in favour of the blending mandate. I think it is the right approach which keeps the focus on the main goal of reducing emission. But what about leaving fuel suppliers free to simply choose the less emitting fuels to meet their 6.8% target? This would have finally recognised and given a role to bioethanol, which is conventional but actually reduces GHG emissions and has a low ILUC impact, as assessed by the Commission itself.  I think this would have been feasible from a scientific perspective, but unfortunately not so much on a political one, based on public misconceptions (see my blog on ‘Why science matters’ here).

Now, my question remains: how are we going to reduce emissions from transport in the next decade?

I look forward to the beginning of negotiations in the institutions and I will be happy to bring the positive example of Brazil, where sugarcane ethanol, one of the best performing conventional biofuels, is actually reducing transport emissions, improving the agricultural sector and creating the conditions for the next generation of biofuels to develop and become commercially viable.

Brazilian Sugarcane Biofuel Producers Applaud Increased EPA Support for Advanced Renewable Fuels

By Elizabeth Farina posted Nov 23, 2016
The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (known by the acronym “UNICA”) today commented on the final 2017 renewable fuel standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The association’s statement should be attributed to UNICA’s President, Elizabeth Farina.

The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (known by the acronym “UNICA”) today commented on the final 2017 renewable fuel standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The association’s statement should be attributed to UNICA’s President, Elizabeth Farina.

“Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol producers applaud EPA for its continued leadership and support of advanced renewable fuels. By setting a higher final 2017 RFS volume requirement for advanced biofuels than originally proposed in May, EPA makes a powerful statement on the economic and climate benefits of renewable fuels.”
 
“Increasing requirements for advanced biofuels help ensure continued American access to sugarcane ethanol, one of the cleanest and most commercially ready advanced biofuels available today. This signal of support will also encourage innovations and increase production of second-generation biofuels, which hold incredible potential to increase per-acre ethanol productivity and unlock vast new cellulosic feedstocks.”
 
“We are proud of the modest but important role Brazil plays supplying the United States with clean, low-carbon renewable fuel.  Over the past four years, nearly 1.2 billion gallons of sugarcane ethanol imported from Brazil flowed into American vehicles.  During this time, sugarcane ethanol comprised only two percent of all renewable fuels consumed by Americans, but provided one-tenth of the entire U.S. advanced biofuel supply.”
 
“With the right market conditions, Brazil has the capacity to supply the U.S. with significantly greater quantities of advanced biofuel than the 200 million gallons assumed by EPA’s 2017 rule. Together, America and Brazil have built a global biofuels market, and we look forward to continuing to ensure the road to sustainable transportation is fueled by renewable biofuels.”
 
# # #
 
The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association is the leading trade association for the sugarcane industry in Brazil, representing nearly 60 percent of the country’s sugarcane production and processing.  More information on sugarcane ethanol and its role as an advanced biofuel is available at www.sugarcane.org/rfs.

Biofuels Play Central Role in Brazil’s Climate Goals

By Leticia Phillips posted Nov 22, 2016
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change entered into force in September, starting a coordinated effort by the world’s governments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit climate change impacts. It’s far from the end, though. Entering into force starts the hard work—meeting each nation’s decarbonization targets. Every country’s intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) will reduce emissions and expand economic opportunities for clean energy. More than any other nation, Brazil’s INDC relies on biofuels to meet these goals.

This article originally ran at Ethanol Producer Magazine.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change entered into force in September, starting a coordinated effort by the world’s governments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit climate change impacts. It’s far from the end, though. Entering into force starts the hard work—meeting each nation’s decarbonization targets. Every country’s intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) will reduce emissions and expand economic opportunities for clean energy. More than any other nation, Brazil’s INDC relies on biofuels to meet these goals.

Brazil’s INDC targets 37 percent lower emissions by 2025 compared to 2005, with further reductions by 2030. This assumes biofuels supply approximately 18 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030 through greater sugarcane ethanol production, expanded second-generation biofuels and additional biodiesel for transportation.

Biofuels can meet this challenge. Ethanol and bioenergy produced from sugarcane already constitute 15.7 percent of Brazil’s energy mix, replacing more than 40 percent of gasoline and avoiding 600 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions since the beginning of the ethanol program in the 1970s. Just this past harvest, Brazil produced 7 billion gallons of advanced ethanol and 15 million megawatt-hours of bioelectricity from cogeneration.

While Brazil’s INDC and its related biofuel goals are ambitious, experience shows they are also realistic. Ultimate success relies on three fundamental pillars: predictable policy, sustainable production and technological innovation.

 First, government policy must be clear and stable. Well-established rules of the road fostered Brazil biofuels with the first wave of ethanol’s growth government driven from the mid-1970s to the 1980s. The second wave of growth, starting in 2003, resulted from the introduction of flex-fuel vehicles. In the past few years, however, regulatory uncertainty has reduced investments and inhibited technological development. The lack of predictable policy has its cost and instead of having 10 to 30 new mills built per year, we see mills shutting their doors.  

Brazil should maintain a regulatory framework, incorporating the positive externalities of renewable fuel into prices via consumption mandates or tax differentials favoring biofuel over gasoline. 

Second, we must ensure sugarcane production continues to expand sustainably. Brazil’s Agro-Ecological Zoning policy prevents sugarcane expansion in the most sensitive biomes and in native vegetation, while authorizing expansion into 64.7 million hectares of suitable land. That’s about 7.5 percent of Brazil’s territory, compared to the one percent of land currently used for sugarcane production. Sustainability extends to paying sugarcane growers fair prices for their product. Brazil’s current approach is very effective, with the Council of Sugarcane Industry and Growers creating clear rules for cane prices and minimizing potential conflicts. 

While there’s no sustainability silver bullet, Brazil’s current policies are a good start and must be maintained. In addition, we should consider innovative models like self-regulatory commitments and third-party certifications. 

Third, we must enhance research and development to unlock next-generation biofuels and increase ethanol’s competitiveness. Second-generation ethanol is a reality in Brazil. Raizen is producing ethanol from cane bagasse in Sao Paulo and Granbio is producing ethanol from bagasse and straw in Alagoas. The Center for Sugarcane Technology has demonstrated we can quadruple ethanol’s productivity through innovation in the near future. Optimizing production, advancing genetic enhancements and expanding agronomy to increase feedstocks, on top of industrial re-engineering of our first-generation production to second-generation ethanol, can raise production from 1,850 gallons per hectare to 6,500 gallons per hectare.

From the beginning of Brazil’s ethanol program, technological innovations multiplied ethanol production by 20-fold, doubled cane yields and cut prices in half. We believe current innovations will create similar results in the next few decades, if research and development continue on track.

 Reducing power sector emissions is an important start to slowing climate change, but to truly decarbonize, we must tackle transportation emissions. Earlier this year, U.S. transportation emissions passed power sector emissions for the first time since 1979 as new clean energy came online, and this trend will likely play out elsewhere as countries decarbonize. Biofuels are a proven solution to replace fossil-based transportation fuel. Together, America and Brazil have built a global biofuels market, showing how stable policy can create economic growth and environmental benefits. 

Biofuels Play Central Role in Brazil’s Climate Goals

By Leticia Phillips posted Nov 14, 2016
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change entered into force in September, starting a coordinated effort by the world’s governments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit climate change impacts. It’s far from the end, though. Entering into force starts the hard work—meeting each nation’s decarbonization targets. Every country’s intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) will reduce emissions and expand economic opportunities for clean energy. More than any other nation, Brazil’s INDC relies on biofuels to meet these goals.

This article originally ran at Ethanol Producer Magazine.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change entered into force in September, starting a coordinated effort by the world’s governments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and limit climate change impacts. It’s far from the end, though. Entering into force starts the hard work—meeting each nation’s decarbonization targets. Every country’s intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) will reduce emissions and expand economic opportunities for clean energy. More than any other nation, Brazil’s INDC relies on biofuels to meet these goals.

Brazil’s INDC targets 37 percent lower emissions by 2025 compared to 2005, with further reductions by 2030. This assumes biofuels supply approximately 18 percent of the country’s energy mix by 2030 through greater sugarcane ethanol production, expanded second-generation biofuels and additional biodiesel for transportation.

Biofuels can meet this challenge. Ethanol and bioenergy produced from sugarcane already constitute 15.7 percent of Brazil’s energy mix, replacing more than 40 percent of gasoline and avoiding 600 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions since the beginning of the ethanol program in the 1970s. Just this past harvest, Brazil produced 7 billion gallons of advanced ethanol and 15 million megawatt-hours of bioelectricity from cogeneration.

While Brazil’s INDC and its related biofuel goals are ambitious, experience shows they are also realistic. Ultimate success relies on three fundamental pillars: predictable policy, sustainable production and technological innovation.

 First, government policy must be clear and stable. Well-established rules of the road fostered Brazil biofuels with the first wave of ethanol’s growth government driven from the mid-1970s to the 1980s. The second wave of growth, starting in 2003, resulted from the introduction of flex-fuel vehicles. In the past few years, however, regulatory uncertainty has reduced investments and inhibited technological development. The lack of predictable policy has its cost and instead of having 10 to 30 new mills built per year, we see mills shutting their doors.  

Brazil should maintain a regulatory framework, incorporating the positive externalities of renewable fuel into prices via consumption mandates or tax differentials favoring biofuel over gasoline. 

Second, we must ensure sugarcane production continues to expand sustainably. Brazil’s Agro-Ecological Zoning policy prevents sugarcane expansion in the most sensitive biomes and in native vegetation, while authorizing expansion into 64.7 million hectares of suitable land. That’s about 7.5 percent of Brazil’s territory, compared to the one percent of land currently used for sugarcane production. Sustainability extends to paying sugarcane growers fair prices for their product. Brazil’s current approach is very effective, with the Council of Sugarcane Industry and Growers creating clear rules for cane prices and minimizing potential conflicts. 

While there’s no sustainability silver bullet, Brazil’s current policies are a good start and must be maintained. In addition, we should consider innovative models like self-regulatory commitments and third-party certifications. 

Third, we must enhance research and development to unlock next-generation biofuels and increase ethanol’s competitiveness. Second-generation ethanol is a reality in Brazil. Raizen is producing ethanol from cane bagasse in Sao Paulo and Granbio is producing ethanol from bagasse and straw in Alagoas. The Center for Sugarcane Technology has demonstrated we can quadruple ethanol’s productivity through innovation in the near future. Optimizing production, advancing genetic enhancements and expanding agronomy to increase feedstocks, on top of industrial re-engineering of our first-generation production to second-generation ethanol, can raise production from 1,850 gallons per hectare to 6,500 gallons per hectare.

From the beginning of Brazil’s ethanol program, technological innovations multiplied ethanol production by 20-fold, doubled cane yields and cut prices in half. We believe current innovations will create similar results in the next few decades, if research and development continue on track.

 Reducing power sector emissions is an important start to slowing climate change, but to truly decarbonize, we must tackle transportation emissions. Earlier this year, U.S. transportation emissions passed power sector emissions for the first time since 1979 as new clean energy came online, and this trend will likely play out elsewhere as countries decarbonize. Biofuels are a proven solution to replace fossil-based transportation fuel. Together, America and Brazil have built a global biofuels market, showing how stable policy can create economic growth and environmental benefits. 

Why science matters

By Géraldine Kutas posted Oct 24, 2016
In its Strategy to decarbonize the transport sector, the Commission made the decision to focus on advanced biofuels only and phase out all conventional biofuels by 2030. If like us you like to think you are a logical person, right now, you’re thinking ‘why’?

Like most people with an interest in European energy issues, we are impatiently waiting for the release of the European Commission’s ‘Winter Package’. In this package, the Commission will amongst other things present its much awaited and certainly controversial new plan for renewable energy sources for 2030.

Biofuels policy has been quite sensitive in the EU as you know. Earlier this year, the Commission released what we know as the ‘Globiom study’, a report which looked at the GHG emissions of various biofuels taking into account Indirect Land Use Change. The purpose of this study was to put a definitive end to speculations around the ILUC impact of conventional biofuels (food crop based) and determine which ones actually reduce emissions and which ones do not.

The results could not have been any simpler: compared to fossil fuels, ethanol reduces, on average, emissions by one third (33%), much more than other conventional biofuels. Guess which ethanol in particular emits even less? No surprise for us: sugarcane ethanol! The same study, based on the very conservative default values of the Commission, found that sugarcane ethanol reduces emissions by 56%. As for advanced biofuels (waste-based) their emissions are close to zero. The problem is they’re not commercially viable yet.

Now think of yourself as a policymaker for a second, one whose job it is to find a way to reduce emissions in the transport sector, preferably at the lowest possible cost for society. You have these facts in your hands. Logic dictates that you put together a policy framework which encourages the use of those biofuels which actually reduce emissions, right?

Well, it seems it’s not always the case. In its Strategy to decarbonize the transport sector, published right before the summer, the Commission made the decision to focus on advanced biofuels only and phase out all conventional biofuels by 2030, regardless of their emission performance. To put it simply, the Commission has decided that it will phase out the only type of biofuel that can actually reduce emissions today because it’s clean and affordable enough to do so.

If like us you like to think you are a logical person, right now, you’re thinking ‘why’? Why would the Commission not differentiate between two clearly different biofuels even though their emission performance is so different? Why would the Commission go as far as to ignore the findings of a study it paid for itself? And why do this while knowing that the EU is lagging behind its transport emissions target?

Believe it or not, the answer is… public opinion. The Commission explicitly admitted that its decision was based on the public’s feelings towards conventional biofuels (the fuel vs. food myth which has been debunked, including by the European Commission itself, a number of times), despite what the scientific data showed. It even went as far as discrediting the calculations of the study it had paid for itself.

According to the Commission, the public is worried that the production of all conventional biofuels uses land which would otherwise be used to grow food. The truth is that in countries like Brazil, food production actually increased as a result of the push to produce more ethanol. In a recent statement, the European Farmers’ Association even recognizes that the production of biofuels has even helped stabilize the food market and made it more resilient to price shocks.[1]

By ignoring these facts, the Commission is doing what too many politicians are doing today – giving in to people’s fears while ignoring the consequences of its decisions. With a little bit of courage and common sense, it might actually save the jobs of thousands of people who work to produce sustainable biofuels used on the European market, and reduce GHG emissions. Isn’t that the point in the end?



[1] http://www.copa-cogeca.be/Download.ashx?ID=1573563&fmt=pdf

Our Authors

 

Géraldine Kutas, Head of International Affairs & Senior International Adviser to the President of UNICA Géraldine Kutas
Head of International Affairs & Senior International Adviser to the President

 

Leticia Phillips, Representative-North AmericaLeticia Phillips
Representative, North America

 

Sugarcane Solutions Blog

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On April 22, we celebrate International Mother Earth Day. Many people want to take action on that occasion by planting a tree or informing themselves on climate change solutions and environmental conservation. However, in today’s era of post-truth politics and information overload, we often struggle to make sound judgements about what is best for the environment and what is agenda-driven rhetoric. Same goes for lawmakers who are in charge of setting the policies that will lead us to a more environmentally friendly economy and lifestyle.

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