CropEnergies warns Germany on plans to reduce biofuels production

Stefan Baumgarten

18-May-2022

LONDON (ICIS)–Germany must not reduce the use of biofuels from arable crops, the CEO of biofuels producer CropEnergies said on Wednesday, adding his voice to the country’s latest “fuel-versus-food” debate.

The debate has been sparked by the surge in food prices in the wake of the Ukraine war.

Federal environment minister Steffi Lemke wants to reduce production of biofuels from edible crops – thus freeing up more agricultural land for food production, which should help dampen the rise in food prices.

“This discussion completely misses the point,” said Stephan Meeder, CEO of CropEnergies.

Modern ethanol biorefineries process less than 4% and thus only a small proportion of the grain grown in the EU, he said.

Furthermore, the grain they use was unsuitable for food, due to its low quality, he said.

“It has been proven that the blending of renewable ethanol in Germany and Europe has no relevant impact on international grain prices,” he said.

Moreover, fuel ethanol is only one part of the total production of a biorefinery, he said.

One tonne of grain yields 300kg of ethanol, along with 400kg of animal feed and 300kg of biogenic carbon dioxide (CO2), he said.

As such, biofuels production helps reduce imports of oil, and it provides protein feed for animals, replacing soy imports, he said.

Furthermore, a move away from the use of biofuels would have a serious impact on the achievement of climate targets in the transport sector, in particular, he said.

“In 2020, all biofuels placed on the market saved 13m tonnes of CO2 in Germany alone,” he said.

“It is absurd that a green environment minister, of all people, is now putting this essential contribution to climate protection up for discussion,” Meeder said.

Minister Lemke is a member of the Green Party.

CYNICAL AND ABSURD
Elmar Baumann, director general of German biofuels industry trade group VDB, said that Lemke’s proposals were “cynical”.

The minister seemed to be using the Ukraine war and the high food prices as a pretext to please “a misguided clientele” that has been politicising the use of biofuels for many years, he said.

He noted that biodiesel production also yields glycerine as a co-product, which is needed in many applications in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetics sectors.

A reduction of biodiesel production would imply a reduction in the availability of glycerine.

The industry would then have to go back to producing fossil-based glycerine, which was an“absurd idea” in terms on climate and environmental policies, he added.

The CEO of another German biofuels producer, Verbio, also criticised the minister’s plans.

Without biofuels, Germany could not achieve its goal of becoming independent from Russian oil and gas, Claus Sauter said in a statement on Tuesday.

He noted that biofuels were important in ensuring the future of the PCK Schwedt refining complex in eastern Germany, where Verbio has an ethanol plant.

The Schwedt refining site will be immediately affected as Germany moves to ban imports of Russian oil.

According to an internal environment ministry paper, Germany could phase out the use of biofuels, produced from food crops, by 2030, German news media reported on Wednesday.

A European non-government organisation, Transport & Environment (T&E), said in a recent study, “Food not fuel: Why biofuels are a risk to food security”, that despite the Ukraine war impact on food prices, Europe turns 10,000 tonnes/day of wheat – the equivalent of 15m loaves of bread based on a typical 750g loaf – into ethanol for use in cars.

Front page picture: Field of rapeseed – which can be used as feedstock for biofuels – in Germany; archive image
Source: Guenter Fischer/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Please visit the ICIS Ukraine topic page

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