European Ethanol producers take ReFuel Aviation to court over SAF definition


European renewable ethanol producers are taking the EU to court, challenging the RefuelEU Aviation Regulation. They argue the regulation unfairly excludes their products, crop-based biofuels, from being classified as Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).

The industry takes issue with the regulation not recognising RED-compliant (meeting the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive standards) biofuels as sustainable options for the aviation sector.

The ReFuelEU Regulation excludes biofuels produced from ‘food and feed crops’ in its taxonomy for the aviation biofuels. EU ethanol production mainly comes from corn, wheat and sugar in addition to other cereal and starch rich crops. The contention lies in the fact that allowing SAF to be produced from corn or wheat will result in making food crop production uneconomical and would lead to higher prices for end consumers.

However, ePURE (the European renewable ethanol association) members think otherwise. They say that the RefuelEU Aviation Regulation was developed with “a manifest error of assessment by contradicting available scientific and technical data and violates the principle of proportionality by effectively enacting bans on the use of RED compliant crop-based biofuels”.

They claim that their product ethanol offers “proven sustainability and benefits for emission-reduction” and should be included in the fight against climate change.

Moreover, ePURE claims that the regulation goes too far. It said that the policy effectively bans their product by excluding it from the definition of SAF.

More than two-thirds of ethanol produced in Europe already goes towards fuel production to be used as a blend. “ePURE members’ renewable ethanol goes mostly to fuel (cca 80%)”, says Craig Winneker, director of communications at ePURE while speaking to SAF Investor. The industry argues that it can add to local SAF production.

“Many players including EU and global companies are investing to supply ethanol-to-SAF. Excluding certain RED-compliant feedstocks does not help new jobs and investment in Europe,” he adds. “ePURE represents 43 companies of which 20 are ethanol producing companies with 50 plants located across the EU and the UK. ePURE represents 85% of EU renewable ethanol production.”

As it stands, the EU’s ethanol industry has an installed capacity of 7.16bn litres capable of producing 4.4bn litres of jet fuel if all capacity is diverted towards aviation fuel production. According to a European Aviation Environmental Report, EU will need approximately 57.5bn litres of jet fuel. EU’s ethanol producers want to develop capacity to meet this future demand.

This case, filed with the General Court of the European Union, by ePURE and Pannonia Bio Zrt, a leading European ethanol producer, highlights the growing tension between the EU’s environmental goals and the specific policies chosen to achieve them.

The EU’s ethanol industry believes its product can significantly contribute to decarbonising the aviation sector if allowed to compete fairly. The outcome of this case could have broader implications for the role of biofuels in the EU’s overall energy and climate change strategy.

The legal battle highlights the ongoing debate surrounding biofuels and their role in achieving climate goals. While some see them as crucial for decarbonising hard-to-decarbonise sectors like aviation, others raise concerns about potential indirect land-use change and emissions. A similar discussion is currently undergoing in US as well where the fate of ethanol subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) hangs in balance as the Biden administration mulls methodology for the emission calculations caused by ethanol.

“We appreciate that the Court will look at the merits of our claims and the matter is properly debated,” says ePURE’s Winneker.

The EU announced ReFuelEU Aviation Regulation in October 2023 setting an obligation for aviation fuel suppliers to ensure that all fuel made available to aircraft operators at EU airports contains a minimum share of SAF from 2025. And from 2030, it should also contain a minimum share of synthetic fuels, with both shares increasing progressively until 2050.

Fuel suppliers will have to incorporate 2% SAF in 2025, 6% in 2030 and 70% by 2050. From 2030, 1.2% of fuels must also be synthetic fuels, rising to 35% in 2050.


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