European Renewable Market

Biofuels and sustainability

For biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without adversely affecting the environment or social sustainability, they must be produced in a sustainable way. The EU therefore sets rigorous sustainability criteria for biofuels and bioliquids.

Companies who want the biofuels they grow or use to be eligible for government support or count towards mandatory national renewable energy targets, must comply with these sustainability criteria. They can prove their compliance through national systems or so-called voluntary schemes recognised by the European Commission.


Land use change

Growing biofuels on existing agricultural land can displace food production to previously non-agricultural land such as forests. Because trees absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, removing them for biofuel production may result in an increase in net greenhouse gases instead of a decrease.
To combat indirect land use change, new rules came into force in 2015 which amend the legislation on biofuels – specifically the Renewable Energy Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive.


Emissions from biofuels cultivation – national reports

Emissions resulting from biofuels cultivation vary greatly depending on the soil and climate of different areas. To determine which areas are best suited for biofuel production, EU countries conducted assessments of all their agricultural land.

The European Commission also examined the feasibility of drawing up such reports for countries outside the EU. It found that while such reports were desirable, they were currently not feasible due to the inability to confirm the accuracy of non-EU countries’ emissions calculations.

EU country reports assessed by the Commission

EU country reports still being analysed by the Commission

Report on the feasibility of drawing up lists of areas in third countries with low greenhouse gas emissions from cultivation [COM(2010) 427]


Biofuels for aviation

Biofuels can serve as a renewable alternative to jet fuel in airliners but are currently not produced on a large commercial scale for this purpose. To help spur the commercial development of biofuels for aviation, the European Commission and its partners have launched the European Advanced Biofuels Flightpath.


Quality standards for biofuels

Working together with the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), the EU aims to develop and improve the technical quality standards of biofuels and biofuel blends for vehicle engines. The practical work is carried out by CEN Technical Committee 19, consisting of experts from the automotive and fuel industries, biofuels producers, and other stakeholders.

European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) Technical Committee 19


Biofuels are liquid or gaseous transport fuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol which are made from biomass. They serve as a renewable alternative to fossil fuels in the EU’s transport sector, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the EU’s security of supply. By 2020, the EU aims to have 10% of the transport fuel of every EU country come from renewable sources such as biofuels. Fuel suppliers are also required to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of the EU fuel mix by 6% by 2020 in comparison to 2010.


Sustainable biomass

For biomass to be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it must be produced in a sustainable way. Biomass production involves a chain of activities ranging from the growing of feedstock to final energy conversion. Each step along the way can pose different sustainability challenges that need to be managed.

Sustainability report

In 2014, the European Commission published a report on the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass for heat and electricity generation. The report includes information on current and planned EU actions to maximise the benefits of using biomass while avoiding negative impacts on the environment. State of play on the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass used for electricity, heating and cooling in the EU [SWD (2014)259] Joint Research Centre scientific report on the default and input values for GHG emissions of biomass Review of literature on biogenic carbon and lifecycle assessment of forest bioenergy (conducted by Forest Research)

Sustainability criteria

The European Commission has issued non-binding recommendations on sustainability criteria for biomass. These recommendations are meant to apply to energy installations of at least 1MW thermal heat or electrical power. They forbid the use of biomass from land converted from forest, and other high carbon stock areas, as well as highly biodiverse areas and ensure that biofuels emit at least 35% less greenhouse gases over their lifecycle (cultivation, processing, transport, etc.) when compared to fossil fuels. For new installations this amount rises to 50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018 – favour national biofuels support schemes for highly efficient installations –         encourage the monitoring of the origin of all biomass consumed in the EU to ensure their sustainability Report on sustainability requirements for the use of solid and gaseous biomass sources in electricity, heating and cooling [COM/2010/11] Impact Assessment [SEC/2010/65] Summary of the Impact Assessment [SEC/2010/66]  

Permitting procedures

One of the biggest difficulties facing biomass producers is getting the proper permits to build their installations.

Problems include:

EU action plans

EU biomass action plan [COM(2005) 628] National biomass action plans


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