Clutching at straw

Country changes track in response to EU restrictions on the consumption of polluting biofuels

Following the introduction of new EU restrictions on the consumption of polluting biofuels on January 24, Denmark is turning its attention to fuel made from straw and other recycled waste materials.

The problematic biofuels include biodiesel made from palm oil, soya, rapeseed and other types of vegetable oil. With these types of biofuels, it is necessary to expand agricultural land, which yields large carbon  dioxide emissions. Consequently, these biofuels often release more carbon dioxide than conventional fossil fuels. The Eurppean Commission has addressed this issue by proposing a ceiling of 5 percent on the consumption of harmful ‘first-generation’ biofuels in the transport sector.

“It is increasingly clear that the current EU requirements concerning the blending of biofuels do not benefit the environment – quite the contrary,” said the climate and energy minister, Martin Lidegaard (Radikale).

“Therefore, we would like to amend the rules so that some of the most harmful biofuels have a smaller market while new, more climate-friendly products are supported by the market.”

Now, the  government is making efforts to further reduce this limit and will also introduce a requirement for mandatory blending of more sophisticated ‘second generation’ biofuels. The government wants to encourage the production of biofuels made from straw, algae, micro-organisms, waste, sludge, raw glycerin, sawdust and other types of biomass that are not used for food.

“There is huge potential in producing fuels from the waste from agriculture activities,” said Lidegaard.

“There is no question that these are the types of biofuels that will determine the future. With the requirements that oil companies must incorporate a certain percentage of these advanced biofuels, we will open a market that will push the development of new technologies.”

The consumption of the new types of biofuels will be regulated through a process known as ‘quadruple counting’. This means that each litre of the new biofuel counts as four litres in the EU climate account. Lidegaard stresses that this measurement requirement will ensure that the new industry is set into motion.

"I definitely expect that there will be Danish jobs in this. A number of Danish companies are highly advanced in the development of those technologies we seek to promote," said Lidegaard.

He is referring, in particular, to the Måbjerg Energy Concept − a consortium comprised of local energy companies and Dong Energy − which plans to build the world's largest plant for the production of ‘second-generation’ bioethanol from straw. The plant, to be located in Holstebro, will have an annual production capacity of about 70 million litres.

"For our system to succeed, blending requirements are crucial,” said Jørgen Udby, the chairman of Måbjerg Energy Concept.

“And it must be of a size that ensures that our products can be marketed within a reasonable radius. The economics of our project will not work if, for example, we are going to export parts of the production."

The total construction costs of the facility at Holstebro will be around 2.4 billion kroner. Waste from the production of bioethanol will be used in an already existing biogas plant.

"This allows us to fivefold increase biogas production to about 100 million cubic metres,” said Udby. “Overall, we are able to utilise about 96 percent of the energy in the straw.”

EU laws on the incorporation of biofuels are currently under revision, and the government will fight to implement amendments in the coming months.

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