In the European Union’s quest to reach 20 percent renewables by 2020, it should avoid the temptation to latch on to ethanol and other biofuels that drain scarce land and water resources, according to a government report issued Wednesday by the European Environment Agency.
“Biomass from waste and residues from agriculture and forestry offer high resource efficiency whereas the environmental benefits from cultivating crops for bioenergy (‘energy cropping’) are often limited,” the report wrote.
Europe’s renewable targets were established in its 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, which also included a 10 percent target for transportation fuel. And while solar and wind energy have scaled up throughout Europe, reaching that 10 percent biofuel goal will be challenging, especially if ethanol is largely excluded from the mix.
European consumption of ethanol grew from 2,000 barrels per day in 2001 to nearly 90,000 barrels per day in 2012, according to IndexMundi, a commodities website.
But using corn-based ethanol to meet the biofuel target is being questioned, with critics saying the environment could be worse for the move.
“While some bioenergy sources and technologies offer significant advantages over fossil fuel-based systems, others lead to environmental concerns,” the report said. “This is particularly the case where bioenergy involves using agricultural land to cultivate energy crops, since it often results in changes to land use, including expanding or intensifying agriculture at other locations.”
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The issue echoes domestic debates over ethanol, with critics arguing that the benefits of ethanol are outweighed by the demands made on scare natural resources, especially water. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 required refiners to blend 15 billion gallons per year of ethanol from corn with conventional motor fuel by 2022.