UK Throttles Back on Biofuels; More Funding to Study Algae and Pyrolysis

Jose Michael

16 October 2008

UK Transport Minister Andrew Adonis outlined plans to take a more cautious approach to biofuels, as part of the Government’s response to concerns about the indirect environmental and social impacts of producing them.

Adonis published a consultation taking forward key findings from the Gallagher Review (earlier post), including the proposal that the rate of increase of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) be slowed to reach 5% in 2013-14 rather than in 2010-11. At the same time he dedicated a further £6 million (US$10.3 million) to research being conducted by the Carbon Trust to accelerate the development of advanced sustainable biofuels technologies.

The £6 million will fund Carbon Trust’s “Advanced Bioenergy Directed Research Accelerator”. It will be delivered over two financial years (£3m per annum) and is intended to accelerate the development of two advanced sustainable biofuel technologies: algae as a sustainable feedstock and pyrolysis-based conversion.

Everyone agrees that to tackle climate change we must develop new and cleaner fuels. But we are clear that biofuels will only have a role to play in this if they are sustainably produced. That is why the Government commissioned Professor Gallagher to examine the indirect impacts of biofuels, and we have accepted his recommendation to amend but not abandon our approach.

We need to take a more cautious approach to biofuels and today's consultation sets out our options, as well as dedicating a further £6 million to helping ensure that second generation biofuels are truly sustainable.

—Minister Adonis

In February, the Government commissioned Professor Ed Gallagher, Chair of the Renewable Fuels Agency, to lead a review of the latest evidence on biofuels. He found that "there is a future for a sustainable biofuels industry" and that by 2020 "biofuels have the potential to deliver annual global greenhouse gas savings of approximately 338 - 371 million tonnes of carbon dioxide".

However, he also stated that there is a strong need for further evidence and monitoring to determine the sustainability and wider impacts of biofuels. As part of this he made a number of recommendations for the future of biofuels, which were accepted by the Government.

The consultation takes these forward by proposing that:

  • The rate of increase of the RTFO be slowed to 0.5% per annum, taking the level to 5% in 2013-14 rather than in 2010-11 as is the case currently;

  • Two new eligible fuels—biobutanol and hydrogenated renewable diesel—are added to the list of renewable fuels eligible under the RTFO;

  • The UK continues to support the EU target of 10% renewable transport fuels by 2020, but that this is conditional on evidence showing that it is being delivered sustainably and without significant impacts on food prices;

  • Government presses for the 10% target to be kept under regular review in the light of the emerging evidence;

  • That the sustainability criteria for biofuels, currently being negotiated, should address indirect, as well as direct, effects on land use; and

  • The UK works to establish international standards and controls, which reflect the international nature of the biofuels industry.

The consultation closes on 17 December.

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