Of biofuels and Polish-German energy relations - plus breaking news on CCS

January 14, 2013 | 00:00

Of biofuels and Polish-German energy relations - plus breaking news on CCS

There has been a strong backlash against biofuels. But aren't we in danger of throwing out the bio-baby with the bathwater?

Criticism of biofuels has become the norm in polite society nowadays. A growing chorus of voices can be heard arguing that we should quit producing biofuels from food crops. NGO's, academics and increasingly also policymakers (e.g. in Brussels) have become increasingly skeptical of the supposed climate blessings of food-based biofuels. In addition, they accuse food-based biofuels of driving up food prices and doing other nasty things, like causing increased pollution. For example, in a two-page spread in a Dutch quality newspaper, biofuel crops were recently accused of leading to a strong increase in emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, although it was not quite clear on what recent scientific publications this new accusation was based on. The EU now wants to stop subsidizing food-based biofuels altogether after 2020 and rely only on "second-generation" (non-food-based) biofuels.

There is one big problem, however, for policymakers who are tempted to follow this line and close down the biofuel shop: the shop has already become very large. As our Berlin correspondent Paul Hockenos reports in a new article for EER, in Germany alone 18% of the country's arable cropland is already devoted to energy crops. There are 1800 German bioenergy companies accounting for 120,000 jobs, most of them in former Eastern Germany.

What is more, Paul notes that the success of German climate policy (the Energiewende) depends strongly on biofuels. They account for 70% percent of all renewable energy in Germany, including 32% of green electricity and virtually 100% of green transport fuel. And what goes for Germany, goes for the rest of Europe as well of course.

No wonder, then, that proponents of bio-energy are starting to fight back. As a rule, they don't deny the problems of food-based biofuels, but they argue that solutions can be found and that it's not necessary to abandon "first-generation" biofuels altogether. In Germany, for example, the defenders of biofuels point to the stringent certification schemes that are now in place in that country, perhaps the most advanced in the world. Indeed, as Paul reports, according to some experts, Germany's "best practice certification" might well become the saviour of the biofuels sector in Europe, if it is followed by other countries.

This obviously is a hugely important issue for the European energy sector. We will continue to follow it for you into 2013.

And as to important issues, we have much more to offer you today. Two more new articles in fact. First, Dietmar Nietan, SDP Member of the German Bundestag, and Chairman of the German-Polish Association wrote an important op-ed for us, in which he explains how Germany and Poland could work together on energy rather than in opposition to each other, as is currently quite often the case. This is quite a vital issue for the future of European energy policy.

In addition, our Brussels correspondent Sonja van Renssen has a scoop on how the European Commission intends to salvage the European carbon capture and storage (CCS) wreckage. Again, this is quite a vital issue that goes much further than just CCS itself: it is decisive for the future of the entire coal-fired and gas-fired power sector in Europe.

Thank you for your interest!

(Respond? karel.beckman@europeanenergyreview.eu)

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