EU ban on new internal combustion cars in 2035 won’t mean end of biofuels, industry says

Critics say the position adopted by the European Parliament for zero tailpipe emissions by 2035 is effectively a mandate for electric vehicles, excluding biofuels.

When the European Parliament passed its version of the car fleet CO2 target legislation for 2035 earlier this month, it was widely described as a ban on the combustion engine.

In fact, this is a mandatory 100% reduction in emissions for all new vehicles put on the market – which effectively excludes new petrol and diesel cars from this date.

The car industry has decried Parliament’s position, which has yet to be reconciled with the Member States’ position, as unworkable.

The biofuels sector is also concerned. Without combustion engines designed for gasoline and diesel, the idea that biofuels could eventually be introduced to replace them is under threat.

Several lawmakers are also concerned about it, saying it breaches the EU’s mantra of maintaining a technology-neutral approach to regulation.

“I voted against the 100% target, I voted for 90%,” Finnish MEP Henna Virkkunen, a member of parliament’s industry and transport committees, said last week during a EURACTIV event.

“I wanted to make room for other fuels – not just hydrogen and electricity. I think there is still a need for biogas and renewable fuels. But as we know, the majority supported 100%.

According to Virkkunen, “it’s always a question of technological neutrality. It is often missing when talking about transportation issues.

Life cycle emissions

Parliament’s position corresponded to the initial proposal of the European Commission. But the idea of ​​a 100% cut in emissions is being given a rough ride in the Council, where transport ministers from the EU’s 27 national governments are less convinced that a complete phase-out of the combustion engine is possible by 2035.

Speaking at the event, Bernd Kuepker, Policy Officer at the European Commission’s Department of Energy, said it made sense to focus on electric mobility.

“We know we have a limited amount of resources and we have to decide where to put them,” he said. “Molecule-based fuels will be difficult to produce, so we should only use them in sectors where other alternatives are not as readily available, such as aviation, shipping or industry.”

“Therefore, we have high hopes that the electrification of passenger cars will be a rather easy solution, the dominant solution, because the electric motor has a very high efficiency and can contribute to the overall energy system as a whole since the batteries can also be used for demand response,” Kuepker said.

Would a 100% reduction in car emissions by 2035 mean the end of biofuels for cars?

“No, I don’t think this is the end of biofuels,” said Valérie Corre, European director of regulatory affairs at French bioethanol producer Tereos.

“Today, as we speak, most people are buying internal combustion engines or hybrids,” she noted. Considering that the average lifespan of a car is ten to twelve years, “that brings us to 2035 at best,” she added.

If from this date only electric vehicles are authorized for sale in Europe and there are not enough charging stations, “then what will this consumer do? asked Corré. “He will keep his car as much as possible”.

According to Corre, this means that the effective end of combustion engine vehicles in Europe will rather occur around 2040 or later.

“When we get there, maybe we will change the course of things. It is therefore not the end of bioethanol.

However, Corre said the legislation would unfairly penalize biofuels because it does not take into account the analysis of the full life cycle of electric vehicles – where emissions are produced during vehicle manufacture, battery production and of electricity production.

“A number of stakeholders have asked for the 100% or the 90% to be calculated on a fair basis, which means a full life cycle analysis,” Corre said. “If we say an electric car is zero emissions just because you measure emissions at the tailpipe and completely ignore all emissions upstream, that’s not right. That’s wrong.”

Once full lifecycle emissions are taken into account, a hybrid-electric car running half the time on a high-ethanol blend (E85) would emit “significantly less” than an electric car, Corre said. “In fact, there is no reason to discriminate.”

Biofuels: “A crucial role” in decarbonizing the existing car fleet

On the side of the European Commission, Kuepker acknowledged that the full life cycle is not calculated at the moment.

“Experts have different views on the current emissions savings of an electric car – depending on what assumptions are made, where you go, how you use it, the composition of shows,” he explained.

“But it is clear that electricity is a sector where we have much more potential to produce more renewable energy, so our mix will become increasingly cleaner. We can’t just wait until it’s completely clean before we start electrifying it. We need to start electrifying now so that everything is in place by 2035 to go all-electric. »

Kuepker acknowledged that motorists will continue to rely on fuels in the current stock of cars, saying these are likely to stay there for a long time.

“Biofuels will play a part in that,” he said. “But they can then be switched out for use in other sectors.”

Adrian O’Connell, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, a US-based non-profit group, told the event that he had researched this issue for heavy vehicles and found that electricity was cleaner even when full life cycle analysis is taken into account.

“I understand the idea of ​​calling emissions zero at the moment, but the EU grid is getting so green – look at a graph from 1990 to today, it’s hugely impressive. Even if you’re using EU grid electricity, we’ve estimated around 60% savings compared to a diesel truck at the moment. »

“When it comes to biofuels, we know some can have a positive impact,” he said. “We are particularly interested in advanced biofuels. But the problem is that the demand for fuel in the EU transport sector is quite colossal.

“So although you can have a very, very low-emission E85 car, especially if you have cellulosic ethanol, that’s fine. But if you look at a country like Germany, the demand is absolutely colossal.

From July, the automotive CO2 proposal will be taken up by the Czechs, who will hold the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU for the second half of the year.

Czech Environment Minister Anna Hubáčková said on Monday that she looked forward to concluding the case in the coming months.

> Watch the full EURACTIV event below:

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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