21 Dezember 2007

EU: Members call for increased industrial use of biomass

"Excessive biofuels production may undermine raw materials base" for industries using biomass.

Germany, Austria, Belgium, Finland, France and Luxembourg are calling for a new EU action plan to promote the use of biomass for the chemicals, construction and packaging industries, which are concerned that excessive biofuels production may undermine their raw materials base.

In a memorandum presented to agriculture ministers on 17 December, the group of member states calls for a new EU action plan to “promote the material and industrial recovery of renewable resources in the EU”.

Manufacturers of chemicals as well as paper and packaging products in particular have expressed concerns that the EU’s drive to increase the use of bio-energy for heating and transport may lead to a shortage of ‘renewable’ raw materials commonly used by these industries.

While natural fats and vegetable oils, for example, are burnt for energy, they are also used to make soaps, paints, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. “As such, we are unable to compete for these limited raw materials due to the massive distortion in competition created by legislation”, argued the European oleochemical industry in February 2005 press statement. “The future of our industry is now at stake”, it said.

In their memorandum, the group of member states propose that threats to these industries from increased use of biofuels should be corrected “by setting development targets [for industrial recovery of biomass] and drawing up and implementing the means for achieving them”. The new plan should supplement existing EU action plans on biomass and biofuels for energy use, according to the memorandum, which cites the EU’s action plan on forests as an example of how the use of biomass for energy is balanced with “the mobilisation of forest resources on a sustainable basis” for use by industry.

Specific measures proposed in the memorandum include a change in state aid rules and tax breaks to encourage and reward the use of raw materials that have a “positive link with climate policy”. Additional “guidance and support measures” for farmers who produce “non-food crops” are also proposed, as well as new standards and eco-labels. “In the agricultural sector, this European action plan will of course have to be based on the principle that the cultivation of crops for the purpose of producing materials and industrial raw materials must comply with agricultural good practices that protect the soil, water, air and biodiversity”, the memorandum notes.

Sustainability issues and the use of genetically modified organsims (GMOs) during agricultural production of industry raw materials were highlighted in July, when the Commission approved the cultivation by chemical giant BASF of a special inedible potato used for industrial starch production.

The memorandum also makes lengthy reference to a new US energy bill, signed into law by the White House on 18 December. The new bill includes a 10% by 2020 target for the use of renewable raw materials for chemicals production, as well as measures to quadruple the use of biofuels in the US transport mix.

Meanwhile, the climate change benefits of biomass were put into question by a recent EU-funded study, which showed that “between 50% and 70% of carbon pollution in winter comes from sources such as wood fires in homes and buildings and the burning of agricultural and garden waste”.

Further information

(Cf. news of 2007-04-26 and 2005-12-07.)

Source: Euractiv.com, 2007-12-20.

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