The European Union assembly fixed a 6 percent limit on the use of crop-based biofuels in ground transport, seeking to spur the development of clean fuels from non-food sources.

MEPs have today approved a cap on the production of food crop-based biofuels and backed plans to measure indirect emissions from 2020.

A European Parliament vote in Strasbourg confirmed fuels derived from food crops such as wheat, corn, or sugar cannot contribute more than six per cent towards the bloc’s 2020 goal of sourcing 10 per cent of transport energy from renewable sources. MEPs also backed a 2.5 per cent share for advanced biofuels, which are derived from feedstocks such as algae or waste.

The EU wants to prevent a requirement that at least 10 percent of energy for road and rail transport in 2020 come from renewable sources from causing side-effects that undermine the battle against global warming.

All this will anger environmental campaigners who had wanted a lower cap, arguing the expansion of Europe’s biofuels industry is displacing food production in developing countries, forcing up food prices, and causing clearances of rainforests, wetlands, or grasslands, which can release huge amounts of carbon.

The failure to measure emissions arising from so-called from indirect land-use change (ILUC) until 2020 will also be seen as a blow to campaigners, who have repeatedly pointed to studies suggesting fuels made from palm oil or soy actually have higher lifetime emissions than the diesel or petrol fuels they are mean to replace.

But how clear are Land Use Changes effects on biofuels ?

We recently focused on that debate in our post on new articles focusing on Land Use Changes effects of biofuels and food disruption. The fact is today, it is not completely clear how much land use effects would determine larger emissions from liquid biofuels. There is a discussion ongoing on by-products, multiple cropping systems (more than one output from same land) and also combinations of feedstock produced for biofuels, power and heat from same farmlands.

Nevertheless, we are basically focused on solid biomass from lignocellulosic energy crops (perennials and woody plantations). Our research and background, shows that a cheaper feedstock in marginal areas is possible if  logistics chains are optimized. Second generation biofuels, heat/power applicatons and syngas are all most probably a better approach to have since perennial grasses, shrubs and short rotation forestry is more feasilbe in marginal areas.

Not all alternatives have same sustainability. Scientific research improves what we know each year and we all expect more to be developed  in the coming years. But we already know well which alternatives are better in particular if we promote their cultivation in marginal areas. And that’s we go for solid biomass, heat, power and biogas and second generation biofuels.