Successful Biofuels conference in Rotterdam


Publish date: March 24, 2011

ROTTERDAM – This week more than 1,500 delegates from several different stakeholders have gathered in Rotterdam for Europe’s largest biofuels conference, the world biofuels markets. Tuesday, one of eight sessions was dedicated to sustainability, certification and so-called indirect land use change (ILUC). Another was dedicated to algae. Bellona’s Brussels office, Bellona Europa was present at both sessions.

Sustainability schemes launched in Rotterdam

The highlight in the session on sustainability was the presentation by the European commissions representative, policy officer Ron Van Erck. He revealed that a total of 17 voluntary schemes for sustainable biofuels had been delivered to the commission for approval. 7 of these are to be accepted and approved of as we speak, and within the next couple of weeks, more approvals of schemes are to come.

”It is very good that the Commission finally is ready to approve these schemes,” says Bellona’s Tone Knudsen. ”Even though it is a challenge for the industry that there is not a common European scheme.”

With 27 member states, it has been impossible to agree on a single scheme.

The Commission has solved this by launching criteria for such schemes in the renewable energy directive (RED), and asked stakeholders to voluntary apply for approval. As of December 2010, all biofuels in the EU needs to be certified by an approved scheme in order to count towards the renewable energy goals set in the directive. Ten percent of the transport sector in the EU is supposed to be from renewable energy, including biofuels, by 2020.

”One can still sell uncertified biofuels in EU, but it will not count towards the mandatory targets for each member state,” says Knudsen, adding, “We believe that this is a good way of incentivising the industry to go in the right direction”. 

Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels (RSB) – one approved scheme presented

The next day, one of the seven schemes was launched. Alwin Kopse, RSB Executive, presented the mission of the RSB certification scheme at a side-event: “To provide/promote a future global standard for sustainable biofuels production; and to provide a global platform for dialogue – also for the ILUC discussion – bringing civil society and business together” is the scheme’s ambitious aim. Its steering board consists of seven chambers, several of them including NGOs; chamber 6 on environment/climate includes WWF, IUCN, Wetlands Int. and others.

The RSB standard covers the entire supply chain, and has been developed and approved by 120 members from 40 countries. On 18th March, RSB was approved by German authorities

“An important point to get across is that in the long term, sustainable biofuels are more in line with cost-efficiency than unsustainable ones” said Kopse. He further explained, “they don’t use arable land, and they are more resource-efficient.”

It is RSB’s responsibility to make sure that all the members adhere to the principles: “If one fails to comply, it gives negative PR for all,” Kopse underlined.


Large future algae potential

Simultaneously with the sustainability session, a workshop on algae and algal biofuels was held in a different room. There, a number of stakeholders gave presentations on microalgal biofuels projects. The Dutch research agency TNO talked about the prospect of capturing industrial CO2 from both power and manufacturing industry in the Netherlands, suggesting that, “approximately 150 million tonnes of CO2 could become available yearly for utilisation in algae production”.

A lively discussion was initiated on whether algal biofuels grown with CO2 from fossil sources should be eligible for credits as carbon neutral. Also, it was questioned whether the fossil source could get credits for not emitting the CO2 when used for algae production. The argument was made that this is just “postponing” the emission for a few months, while others argued that because the carbon was utilised for energy production twice rather than once, hence displacing fossil transport fuels, this must be credited on equal terms.

“It is important to get the numbers right in this discussion,” says Jonas Helseth from Bellona Europa. “Bellona is of the opinion that it is better to use the fossil CO2 for algae production than emitting it. However, such algae cannot be seen as a totally carbon neural energy source.”

The search for the “perfect” algal strain was also discussed, or rather if it possible to find a perfect strain. Several academics including Mario Tredici from Florence University and Rene Wijffels from Wageningen University presented their research. They showed that the potential is large but strongly needs innovative R&D. Raffaello Garofalo, Vice President of the European Algae Biomass Association, pointed out the need for EU member states to include algal biofuels in their lists of biofuels that receive double counting under the current EU renewable energies directive, as the directive does not mention algal sources.