The European Union has decided to phase out support for vegetable oil-based biodiesel by 2030 and palm oil-based biodiesel by 2021 in its revamp of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED).

The Environment Committee of the European Parliament proposed to remove all food-based biofuels from the European fuel supply but, in a vote on 23 October, members of the parliament (MEP) decided to spare some fuels, such as bioethanol and crops grown on marginal land, from the phase-out, wrote Fuels and Lubes on 25 October.

MEPs also voted to increase the overall advanced fuels target to 9% of total fuel supply by 2030, while rejecting a general overall target for the transport sector, which would have required the use of food-based biofuels, Fuels and Lubes said.

Transport & Environment, an NGO promoting sustainable transport policies, said that the high mandate for advanced biofuels could turn out to be unsustainable due to the limited availability of feedstocks.

“This vote puts the EU clean fuels policy on a cleaner track, but it still leaves the door open to some food-based biofuels in 2030,” said Laura Buffet, Transport & Environment clean fuels manager.

“The EU policy push for crop-based biodiesel has led to the creation of a growing market for vegetable oils. Between 2005 and 2015, total vegetable oil consumption in the EU decreased in the food sector from 15.1M to 13.7M tonnes, whereas it almost quadrupled in the bioenergy sector, growing from 2.9M to 10.5M tonnes,” she added.

According to Buffet, 53% of vegetable oil feedstocks used in Europe in 2015, including rapeseed, palm and soya oils, were imported.

However, eight European associations representing the biofuel supply chain – including Fediol, the European Biodiesel Board and ePURE – said the vote “wrongly penalised” conventional biofuels and undermined the EU’s climate and sustainability goals.

Speaking on behalf of the associations, Copa-Cogeca secretary general Pekka Pesonen, said in a statement on 24 October: “The EU should create a policy framework that supports all sustainable forms of renewable energy and contributes to the reduction of fossil fuels’ use and protein feed import. EU biofuels have proven to do all that.”

According to Pesonen, conventional biofuels had resulted in a 35M tonnes of avoided CO2 emissions in 2013 and had led to a 116M tonne reduction in EU fossil fuel demand, while replacing 4-5M ha worth of imported high-protein meal and animal feed.

Nathalie Lecocq, Fediol director general, said these benefits had been disregarded, adding: “The Environment Committee has focused all its efforts in trying to get rid of biofuels on the basis of alleged sustainability risks. In doing so, it has completely overlooked the big picture, which is that 95% of EU road transport still relies on fossil fuels.”

The associations instead welcomed a proposal by the European Council, which included a 15% target for renewable energy in transport and maintained the current 7% cap on conventional biofuels.