According to Yle News, the Finnish government has just released a new energy and climate policy aiming to cut vehicular emissions and increase the use of renewables.Juha Sipilä’s administration wants more than 50 percent of the country’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.
The central tools for achieving the government’s energy and climate goals are renewable energy, greening the vehicle population and using biofuels.
In terms of road traffic, the government wants to have 250,000 electric cars on the roads by 2030, alongside at least 50,000 gas-powered vehicles. There is then a need to study what is the impact of this new need for electricity: will it be produced by new atomic reactors, with the risks they convey, by fossil fuels , such as coal, normally not authorized after 2030 in Finland, or by renewable sources such as sun (now efficient in Finland), wind or earth?
In terms of biofuels, the government has increased the distribution target: instead of the current 13 percent of biofuel used in regular petrol, the government intends to increase the requirement to 30 percent by the year 2030. Politically, it is understandable, as our leading Center Party is representing the rural activities, and especially agriculture.
Biofuels have first been considered as a wonderful thing, which was going to save the climate and the agriculture. In a second step, it has been considered catastrophic, because of its negative impact on food production: some countries began to replace food production with biofuel production, leading to some risks of famine in the poorest countries. Today, the general opinion is more balanced. However, there are still risks.
Until recently, many policy-makers assumed that the replacement of fossil fuels with fuels generated from biomass would have signiﬁcant and positive climate-change effects by generating lower levels of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Bioenergy crops can reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions by directly removing carbon dioxide from the air as they grow and storing it in crop biomass and soil. In addition to biofuels, many of these crops generate co-products such as protein for animal feed, thus saving on energy that would have been used to make feed by other means.
But scientific studies have revealed that different biofuels vary widely in their greenhouse gas balances when compared with petrol. Depending on the methods used to produce the feedstock and process the fuel, some crops can even generate more greenhouse gases than do fossil fuels. Moreover, greenhouse gases are emitted at other stages in the production of bioenergy crops and biofuels: in producing the fertilizers, pesticides and fuel used in farming, during chemical processing, transport and distribution, up to ﬁnal use. Greenhouse gases can also be emitted by direct or indirect land-use changes triggered by increased biofuel production, for example when carbon stored in forests or grasslands is released from the soil during land conversion to crop production.
So we have to be careful with biofuels, and carefully define how we produce it in order to get its benefits. That is the reason why the EU Commission decided that, for biofuels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without adversely affecting the environment or social sustainability, they must be produced in a sustainable way. The EU therefore has begun to set rigorous sustainability criteria for biofuels and bio liquids, and to combat indirect land use change, new rules came into force in 2015 which amend the legislation on biofuels – specifically the Renewable Energy Directive and the Fuel Quality Directive.
This work is not finished, and stricter regulations are expected. That is the reason why the Finnish Forest Industries Federation has called on government to conduct a thorough assessment of its energy strategy on the operating conditions of the export industry before making any final decisions, and asked the government to “do everything to ensure that EU decisions on sustainable biomass policy, timber’s carbon neutrality in energy output and the role of forests as carbon sinks in combating climate change do not restrict the growth of a sustainable bio-economy“. It said: lobby for us, and forget the other reasons why we should have proper biofuels.
Finnish company Neste Oil was in 2014 the world’s largest producer of renewable fuels from waste and residues. Its flagship refinery is not in Finland, but in Rotterdam, and it produces renewable products. The production capacity of the refinery is 1 million tons per year, but there is nothing equivalent in Finland, which is a pity when Neste would have the resources to create one. The main project in Finland is … Chinese: Kaidi, a Chinese company listed in Shenzhen Stock Exchange, plans to build a globally unique second generation biomass plant in Kemi by 2019. The plant will produce 225,000 metric tons of biofuel per year, of which 75% will be biodiesel and 25% biogasoline. The total investment is EUR 900 million.
It is possible that another project, from Neste for example, will develop if the government is serious about the development of the use of biodiesel for cars, if the European Commission announces soon stable rules for the assessment of biofuels impact on climate change, and if Neste management is a little more dynamic… If not, we may have to buy our biofuel from abroad.
Alain Lefebvre, 11/2016