Greenhouse gas emissions from biofuels such as palm oil, soybean and rapeseed are higher than those for fossil fuels when the effects of Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) are counted, according to leaked EU data seen by EurActiv.
The default values assigned to the biofuels compare to those from Canada’s oil sands – also known as tar sands – according to the figures, which should be released along with long-awaited legislative proposals on biofuels in the spring.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said she could “not comment on leaked documents, such as impact assessments which have not been published.”
But industry and civil society sources described the data as credible and in line with other studies. One said it would sound a death knell for the biodiesel industry, if published.
“I think the science has proved clearly that because of the link to deforestation in places such as South East Asia, a lot of the biodiesels have significantly negative impacts on the climate,” Robbie Blake, a spokesman for Friends of the Earth, told EurActiv.
ILUC happens when forests and wetlands are cleared to compensate for lands taken to grow biofuels elsewhere.
One recent report predicted that all of Malaysia’s tropical peatswamp forests would be destroyed by the end of the decade because of ILUC - with alarming consequences for greenhouse gas emissions - unless the expansion of palm oil production was halted.
To measure the climate impact of fuels, Brussels favours assigning default values based on a calculation of their full lifecycle emissions, hence the debate over ILUC factors and biofuels.
In its recent review of the Fuel Quality Directive, the EU proposed a default value of 107g CO2 equivalent per megajoule of fuel (CO2/mj) for oil from tar sands, as compared to 87.5g CO2/mj for crude oil, reflecting the greater environmental harm that its production causes.
Yet while advanced ‘second generation’ biofuels comfortably outperform fossil fuels in the EU’s new data, palm oil is ascribed a value of 105g, soybean 103g, rapeseed 95g, and sunflower 86g, once ILUC is factored in.
The data propose ILUC-incorporating CO2/mj values for biofuels as follows:
• Oil from tar sands - 107g
• Palm Oil - 105g
• Soy bean – 103g
• Rapeseed – 95g
• Crude oil - 87.5g
• Sunflower – 86g
• Palm Oil with methane capture – 83g
• Corn (Maize) – 43g
• Sugar Cane – 36g