The call came as MPs on the influential Committee on Energy and Climate Change heard evidence on the sustainability of UK biofuels – an issue which has dogged the biofuels sector for many years. Industry stakeholders described UK-grown biofuels as “the most environmentally sound in the world”, while environmental groups such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) expressed “deep concern” about the sustainability of biofuels sourced from abroad.
Speaking at the hearing, David Kennedy, chief executive of the Government’s climate change advisors, the Committee on Climate Change admitted that there was a place for biofuels in the UK, but questioned how sustainable it could be:
“There is an important role as seen by the Government,” he said. “We don’t disagree that there could be an important role, but there is a question about the sustainability and I think we can’t be confident that everything coming forward will be sustainable.”
Speakers at the hearing also told the committee about the uses of biofuel feedstock by-products, including rape meal, which can be used as a high-protein food for livestock.
Under European law, the UK is required to source 10% of its transport fuel from renewable sources by 2020, but UK renewable transport fuel targets have plateaued at 5% by volume to 2014, and Government is yet to confirm its commitment to biofuels beyond that date.
Clare Venner, head of renewable transport at the Renewable Energy Association, told Renewable Energy Focus the delay was stifling investment in UK-produced biofuels. “It is extremely difficult for investors to say we know where we’re going and we can get on with it,” she said. “We need certainty.”
And the longer the uncertainty continues, the harder it will be for the UK to meet its mandatory 10% renewable transport fuels target by 2020 using home-grown biofuels, she added, highlighting that the 5% by volume target still only equates to 3.5% in energy.
The chief cause of the delay has been Government caution over the effects of the change in land use from food crops to biofuel feedstocks. In December, the government revised the support mechanism for renewable transport fuels, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to incorporate more sustainability into feedstock production, but the Government remains cautious that sustainable feedstock exists.
The Bioenergy Strategy, due to be published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) shortly, will address many of the issues currently faced by the industry, says Venner.
Nobody from DECC was available to comment on whether a trajectory was likely to be included in the upcoming strategy.