EU lawmakers stop controversial biofuels from fuelling planes
The European Parliament has barred the use of controversial biofuel feedstocks, including intermediate crops and palm oil by-products (PFADs), from Europe’s aviation green fuel mandate (ReFuelEU).
Green group Transport & Environment (T&E) calls upon the three main European institutions – the Parliament, the Council and the Commission – to keep the momentum going by excluding the last remaining problematic feedstock – animal fats (of the third category) – in their upcoming negotiations in September.
Matteo Mirolo, aviation policy officer, says: “If we are serious about fighting climate change and decarbonising aviation, Europe needs to make more choices like the one we witnessed today. Sustainable aviation fuels should have no link whatsoever to deforestation, loss of biodiversity and increasing food prices. Today, EU lawmakers have gone a good way towards a definition of SAFs that is positive for our planet and the credibility of aviation’s green future.”
On the table was a proposal that would have expanded the definition of sustainable fuels, to include palm oil by-products PFADs and intermediate crops (i.e., the crops planted before or after the main crop, in the intermediate season). In an unprecedented move, airlines and green groups, with easyJet’s support, wrote to MEPs ahead of the vote to draw attention to the issues with palm oil by-products and biofuels in aviation. Excluding these feedstocks from the definition was an important step to avoid devastating consequences for the climate.
Animal fats (of the third category), however, still remain included in the definition of what constitutes a green fuel in Europe. Animal fats are by-products of the animal slaughter process. They are used in competing industries, creating shortages in sectors that already use them. Palm oil is very often the chosen substitute for animal fats, leading to negative impacts on global land use change and emissions, as well biodiversity.
Most importantly, the European Parliament showed preference for synthetic fuels over biofuels. They are the only fuels that can be sustainably scaled up to reduce aviation’s climate impact, T&E says. Lawmakers tripled the synthetic fuel volumes proposed by the Commission for 2030 and decided that in 2050, half of the total jet fuel use in Europe will be synthetic. The main synthetic fuel available now is e-kerosene, generated by combining green hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO₂). An ambitious mandate for e-kerosene will spur investment in the fuel, in a market where Europe is already a leader.
The Parliament also expanded the definition of synthetic aviation fuels to renewable electricity and green hydrogen. This momentous decision shows that the EU wants to incentivise and accelerate the development of zero-emission aircraft.
Amid discussions on fuel types, mitigating non-CO₂ effects of aviation made it into the final text. Non-CO₂ emissions account for two thirds of aviation’s climate impact, but efforts to legislate them in the past were unsuccessful. Today, the Parliament paved the way to finally regulate the quality of the fuel to ensure it has lower aromatic concentrations and sulfur content. This will be a significant step to reduce the non-CO2 climate impacts in aviation, but also to improve air quality around airports, T&E says.
Mirolo concluded: “The European Parliament doubled down on synthetic fuels for aviation and left no room for diversion into harmful biofuels from palm oil by-products and crops. Decarbonising the aviation sector is no easy task, but airlines, environmentalists and politics alike have sided with the needs of the planet. Let’s now close off this deal by excluding all remaining unsustainable biofuels.”