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Energy: Biofuels

Volume 690: debated on Wednesday 21 March 2007

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress they have made in the development of environmental and sustainability certification standards for (a) domestically produced, and (b) imported biofuels and feedstocks since the House of Lords European Union Committee issued its report on the EU Strategy on Biofuels on 20 November 2006 (47th Report, HL Paper 267).[HL2606]

The environmental sustainability of production is one of the Government's key priorities for biofuel development. That is why the Government are developing carbon and sustainability reporting as an integral part of the renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO). This will require all fuel suppliers who apply for renewable transport fuel certificates to report on the greenhouse gas balance and wider environmental impacts of the biofuels supplied. Reporting will apply to all fuels whether domestically produced or imported.

The reports will include details of the previous use of the land on which the biofuel feedstocks were grown and the impacts on biodiversity of growing those feedstocks. This will encourage companies to supply biofuels that deliver the maximum greenhouse gas savings with the minimum environmental impact. It will also ensure that we can monitor the impact of both imported and domestically-sourced biofuels.

In the long term, the Government will be looking to move to a system that allows only biofuels which meet certain minimum sustainability standards to benefit from the RTFO. However, developing a verifiable and robust system that is compatible with World Trade Organisation requirements on barriers to trade will take time. The Government are currently consulting on how and when they might move to such a system as part of their wider consultation on the RTFO, copies of which are available in the House Libraries or on the Department for Transport website at www.dft.gov.uk/roads/rtfo.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether any feedstock for biofuels is cultivated using organic farming techniques. [HL2647]

There is currently very little processing capacity for biofuels in the UK, although more is planned. I am not aware of any organically grown crops being used for biofuels at present.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What proportion of set-aside farming land is now cultivated for feedstock for biofuels. [HL2649]

Of the 360,000 or so hectares English farmers are obliged to set aside, some 76,000 hectares (21 per cent), have been entered into contracts under the non-food set-aside arrangements for the 2006 single payment scheme. The majority of the hectares concerned would be used for energy purposes, but the precise number could be gathered only at disproportionate cost.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the targets for United Kingdom market share of biofuels include all biofuels, irrespective of their different carbon emission mitigation benefits; and [HL2645]

Whether they support the expansion of (a) domestic production of biofuels, and (b) importation of biofuels for use in the United Kingdom; and whether this is primarily for reasons of climate change mitigation or for reasons of energy security; and [HL2650]

What assessment they have made of the potential for emissions mitigation from transport from the use of blends of biobutanol in fuel; and [HL2709]

Whether the introduction of the renewable transport fuels obligation will be accompanied by a reduction of fiscal incentives to produce biofuels. [HL2710]

The Government support biofuels primarily because of the carbon savings they can offer. Biofuels also offer a number of ancillary benefits, including contributing to the diversity and security of the UK's transport fuel supplies and creating opportunities for the rural economy.

The renewable transport fuel obligation (RTFO) will, in its early years, reward all biofuels equally, irrespective of the carbon savings they offer. It will, however, include a requirement on transport fuel suppliers to report on the environmental impacts and lifecycle carbon performance of any biofuels for which they wish to claim certificates. Over time, the Government are proposing to move to a system where the RTFO rewards different biofuels according to their environmental performance. The RTFO consultation document published on 22 February, and available in the House Libraries, seeks views on this issue.

The biofuels that will be needed to meet the RTFO's targets are expected to come from a mixture of imports and domestic production. A number of UK biofuel production plants have come on stream since the announcement of the RTFO and several more are at the planning and development stage.

Fuel duty incentives are a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor announced in Budget 2006 that, over time, the Government expect that the emphasis will move from the duty incentive towards the buy-out price as the principal support mechanism for biofuels in the future.

Biobutanol has a number of potential advantages over bioethanol, including its ability to be used at up to a 10 per cent blend without any modification to existing vehicle technology. It also has a higher energy content than bioethanol, and has the potential to be more easily incorporated into the existing UK fuel supply infrastructure. The Government have not, however, carried out any detailed assessment of the extent to which biobutanol could reduce total emissions from road transport. Its total emissions benefits would, as with all biofuels, depend on the nature of the feedstock from which it was produced, as well as the energy used to cultivate, process, refine and transport it.