Implementation of transport biofuels policies – supporting low carbon intensity biofuels
IEA Bioenergy Task 39 (Transport Biofuels) has published six issues of the implementation agenda report in 2007, 2009, 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2021. This current issue (2023) updates the progress in biofuel production and use in member countries and the policies that have been used by Task 39 nations to promote low-carbon intensity biofuels. Assessed countries/regions include China, Japan, the European Union, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, the USA, with a 10-to-20-page country chapter for each in the report, describing the main drivers, policies, and market developments in relation to biofuels.
An important “take-home” message from the report is that effective biofuel policies are needed to stimulate the growth of biofuel markets. For example, mandates continue to be an important policy tool that have been successfully used to encourage the production and use of biofuels, by establishing markets and facilitating market entry. To date, biofuel policies have been effective in supporting “conventional” biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. While these types of biofuels currently dominate the market, the production and use of “drop-in” biofuels such as renewable diesel (RD, also termed HVO) and Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF)/biojet has been increasing, driven by market demand. Organizations such as aviation’s ICAO/IATA and marine’s IMO recognize that the long-distance transport sectors will not be easy to electrify and require low carbon intensity fuels.
“Market-pull” policies with volumetric or energy targets have played a significant role in supporting mature technologies, such as production and use of ethanol and biodiesel. Although these policies have also helped develop more advanced biofuels, novel policies such as low carbon fuel standards (LCFS) have increasingly emphasized the carbon intensity (CI) of biofuels, rather than volumetric targets. The CI of a biofuel is a key component of the updated report as, one of the main reasons for using biofuels, is to reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with transportation. In particular, “hard to electrify” long distance transport sectors such as aviation, marine, and much of trucking, are predisposed to using drop-in renewable fuels in the long term. By using low-CI, drop in biofuels, these sectors can make use of much of the current infrastructure/supply chain while decreasing the carbon emissions associated with (long-distance) transport.
As described in the report, policies such as California’s LCFS (CA-LCFS) require various entities – typically fuel and energy providers – to progressively reduce the GHG emissions of the fuels they sell. The CA-LCFS assesses emissions resulting from the production, transportation, and consumption of low-CI fuels with a credit trading system used to enhance flexibility. It should be noted that LCFS-types of policies have also been shown to enhance the CI performance of “conventional” biofuels such as ethanol while promoting the growth of drop-in biofuels such as Renewable Diesel or SAF. As detailed in the full report, regions such as California, Oregon and Washington States, the Province of British Columbia (BC), and countries such as Canada (Clean Fuel Regulations), Brazil (RenovaBio) and several EU countries (such as Germany, Sweden, …), have either implemented or are considering implementing similar measures.
The “right/enabling” policies continue to be crucial for the continued growth of biofuels. Although market-pull and technology-push policies will continue to be important, if the ultimate goal is to decarbonize transport, those policies should be technology-agnostic and focused on reducing the carbon intensity of the fuel, rather than defining volumetric/or energy targets.
The increasing focus on the carbon intensity (CI) of the biofuel requires the use of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) models. Determining the CI of a biofuel is not easy, with many factors, such as the default values used, the use of co-products, the source of electricity, the impact of land use changes, etc., all influencing the values that are reported. Related Task 39 work has also shown how the assumptions within the LCA models that are used (e.g., GREET, GHGenius, RED methodology, etc.) will also influence the CI value for various biofuels. The international cooperation that is provided by IEA Bioenergy Task 39 allows a compare-and-contrast of successful, enabling policies and highlights the need for ongoing cooperation, as the world tries to decarbonize its transportation sector.