Stakeholder workshop on sustainability criteria held at EUBCE 2019

The ADVANCEFUEL project has held its third stakeholder workshop at the European Biomass Conference and Exhibition (EUBCE) in Lisbon, on 27 May 2019, with more than forty stakeholders from the biofuels value chain.


The workshop, ‘Optimising value chains and ensuring the sustainability of advanced lignocellulosic biofuels with effective sustainability criteria and verification’, gave stakeholders the chance to comment on the project’s work in seeking to create harmonised sustainability standards for advanced biofuels.


The participants were welcomed by Kristin Sternberg (FNR), the co-ordinator of ADVANCEFUEL, who discussed the importance of sustainability criteria in the market uptake of advanced biofuels.


Kristin was followed by Ric Hoefnagels, of Utrecht University, who presented ADVANCEFUEL’s work in biofuels sustainability.

The project aims to assess sustainable production of RESfuels along the value chain and test its performanceby applying indicators, which are related to those used by certification schemes and tailor them to the specificities of liquid advanced biofuels. Ric highlighted that the project will provide recommendations for the harmonisation of existing (and future) national and voluntary sustainability criteria.


Some member states have however already implemented binding sustainability criteria at the national level to these sectors. This will change in the 2021-2030 time frame of the revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) which covers all bioenergy uses. Ric highlighted that the project will provide recommendations for the harmonisation of existing (and future) national and voluntary sustainability criteria and certification.


The RED II sets a sub-target for and advanced biofuels and has updated sustainability criteria,  but a study by ADVANCEFUEL has shown that some of the existing voluntary schemes are already more stringent and more comprehensive. There is therefore a need to boost the ambition of RED II if the biofuels market is really to grow, though member states also need guidance in implementing criteria at the national level.


This message was supported by Patrik Klintbom, chair of the European Technology and Innovation Platform (ETIP) on Bioenergy, who presented the ETIP Bioenergy viewpoint on the RED II. To support the market of renewable transport fuels, there needs to be an EU-wide approach, to avoid national fragmentation, which involves support measures, finance, and targets. Patrick highlighted the Indirect Land use Change (ILUC) Delegated Act as a key piece of the puzzle, but noted that implementation needs to be harmonised across the EU if it is to be effective.


The next speaker, Sascha Wüstenhöfer, from International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) presented their approach to certification, covering every stage in the biomass value chain, from production through to end use, with specific criteria applicable to agriculture and forest biomass. ISCC already covers the criteria to forest biomass set out in the RED II and aims at recognition for solid biomass certification in the Netherlands, one of the member states that already has binding criteria for solid biomass at the National level. From 2020, the RED II framework will come into force, with Annex IX defining what counts as a feedstock for advanced biofuels. There will be numerous challenges to overcome in the changeover from the RED I to RED II framework, including different speeds of transition and different levels of ambition in member states.

Demonstrating the sustainability of biofuels will be essential to their uptake, helping to overcome consumer concerns. Loes Knotter from the Dutch Platform for Sustainable Biofuels presented some of these concerns when addressing the practicalities of implementing sustainability criteria in the Netherlands. These include the competition between food and feed, impacts on the environment from land use change and mono-cultivation of energy crops. In the Netherlands, the Driven by Nature campaign is aiming to overcome some of these perceptions, demonstrating that biofuels can be sustainable if linked with sustainable practices in agriculture and forestry, maintaining healthy soils, and working with smallholders and local communities, rather than large industrial farms. Good communication and transparency are key to a successful market rollout.


Loes and Patrik were joined by Philippe Marchand (formerly of Total), Marko Janhunen (UPM), and Ingvar Landälv (Fuels & Energy Consulting) for a panel discussion.

The audience and panel discussed whether a clearer definition of ‘advanced’ or ‘sustainable’ biofuels is needed. Whilst Annex IX of the RED II was appreciated by some participants, others were critical, noting that a closed list may make it difficult for new feedstocks to be used.


There was also some discussion as to whether a single framework was suitable for so many different types of feedstock, and whether there should be such differentiation in the discussion between first and second generation biofuels as at present.


Participants also discussed the reliability of certification schemes, and the challenge of potential fraud across the value chain, which could cause significant reputational damage. Regarding the robustness of sustainability criteria, the stakeholders discussed that we cannot wait for the perfect criteria to emerge; instead we must consistently adapt criteria as more evidence on biofuel performance emerges, though this could cause significant uncertainty for those looking to invest in the industry.


The workshop concluded that environmental and socio-economic sustainability criteria are needed, and they were universally regarded as being essential for acceptability by consumers. But there is still significant scope for considerations of economic and social sustainability, considering, in particular, that biomass producers be included as partners, and not only as suppliers, that biofuels are put onto a level playing field with carbon-based fuels (removal of current subsidies), and that costs are distributed, so the burden does not fall on low-income sections of society.


Pictures from the event are available in the media section of the website.


The presentations are available below: