In Switzerland, sustainable biofuels are produced from biogenic waste, following the plate-trough-tank principle.
In recent years, biofuels have come under fire - partly rightly, partly wrongly. Probably the biggest point of criticism is the use of food and feedstuffs such as sugar cane, maize, soya, palm fruits, rapeseed, etc. for fuel production. Indirect competition with the food industry is also evident in the cultivation of energy crops on agricultural land. For critics, this is hardly ethically justifiable in view of the food shortages in many countries. The problem has largely been solved by the increased focus on residual and waste materials.
Biofuels, however, are always scolded unduly. For example, only about 2 % of palm oil is used in fuel production; 95 % (!) is used in industry, where it is used as a raw material.
raw material for food and animal feed, chemical and pharmaceutical products and cosmetics.
Another point of contention is the environmental friendliness of the production processes. Not all of them have a positive environmental balance. For example, in the critique from the Leopoldina Academy of Sciences
to read the following:
"The economic experts of the Leopoldina Academy of Economics have concluded that the production of biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas, with the exception of the direct conversion of organic waste to energy, consumes significantly more land than other renewable energy sources, produces more greenhouse gases on farms, promotes nutrient pollution of soils and waters and competes with food production."
The cultivation of certain raw materials such as maize and sugar cane has a negative impact on the energy balance. The cultivation method also plays a major role. In particular, the expansion of agricultural production into ecologically valuable areas such as rainforests must be avoided. Due to the constant further development of technologies, but also due to the increased use of waste products instead of cultivated food, these disadvantages have also been reduced. Further criticism is directed at the supposedly poor environmental balance of biofuels. However, these always refer to production through the cultivation of energy crops. Some processes for the production of biogenic fuels are not yet fully developed and mature. In recent years, however, the industry has developed considerably and it is only a matter of time before even the lagging biogenic fuels are competitive. The efficiency of individual raw materials for energy production can also still be optimised.
A large part of the added value of biogenic fuels does not come from the cultivation of the agricultural raw materials, but from the processing of the energy crops. The participation of the local population in production and thus in value creation is the goal of decentralised biofuel projects.
Energy crops that are labour-intensive (e.g. castor oil, jatropha oil or babaçu) and have to be harvested manually are particularly suitable for this. The cultivation of Jatropha curcas and the use of vegetable oil on a small scale can, for example, contribute to a revitalisation of the rural economy and decentralisation in energy supply.
Brazil's biodiesel programme promotes castor and palm oil production in the north and northeast of the country, with the aim of creating 400,000 jobs. Since November 2005, the state petroleum company PETROBRAS has been buying up biodiesel produced by small farmers and blending it with conventional diesel fuel.
In the US state of Minnesota, many ethanol plants are run by cooperatives after the state paid an advance of €0.65 per litre for the first 57 million litres of ethanol. Today, 40 % of ethanol in Minnesota is produced in plants run by farmer cooperatives.
Countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines also promote the production of biogenic fuels from local energy crops with a view to regional value creation. Mali and Senegal promote the production of jatropha oil for local use in oil lamps or oil cookers. Especially peripheral regions achieve greater financial independence and a secure supply through regional use. The research and development of machines that can be operated directly with vegetable oil is likely to strengthen this effect.
With fossil fuels such as petrol and diesel, CO₂ and other greenhouse gases are emitted primarily during combustion in the vehicle. With biogenic fuels, on the other hand, combustion is largely CO₂-neutral because only as much CO₂ is released as was bound from the air by the plant. With many biogenic fuels, the emission of greenhouse gases can therefore be reduced compared to petrol and diesel.
The further effects of biogenic fuels on the climate and the environment have been investigated in various studies. When assessing the effects of biogenic fuels on climate and the environment, the entire value chain from the cultivation of renewable raw materials or the use of waste and residual materials to the consumption of the fuels must be taken into account.
Some biogenic fuels can therefore cause higher impacts than fossil fuels in aspects such as biodiversity loss or air pollution. Negative impacts on the climate and the environment often arise during the cultivation of the raw materials and are therefore strongly dependent on the cultivation method. The expansion of agricultural production into ecologically valuable areas such as rainforests should be viewed particularly critically. Biogenic fuels from waste and residual materials from agriculture, forestry and restoration have the least impact on the climate and the environment.
In the EU, the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) has been in force since 2009, requiring EU member states to increase the share of renewable energy to 20 % of total fuel consumption by 2020.
In the USA, targets for the promotion of biofuels have existed since the EnergyPolicyAct 2005. Similar to the EU targets, biogenic fuels are to cover a share of 20 % of total demand in the USA by 2020. To achieve this goal, there are different measures in each state, such as blending quotas, production incentives or sales tax reductions.
In Brazil, the ProAlcool programme has mandated the blending of bioethanol with petrol for 30 years. The blending quota is 20 to 25 %. Filling stations in Brazil are obliged to offer both petrol blended with 25 % ethanol (E25) and pure ethanol (E100). The blending obligation was accompanied by subsidies for production or tax relief for flex-fuel vehicles or those that run on pure ethanol.
Efforts are being made worldwide to replace fossil fuels with biogenic fuels. Here is an overview of the funding instruments:
Exemption from mineral oil tax: In many European countries, biogenic fuels are given preferential treatment with regard to mineral oil tax (e.g. Belgium, France, Greece, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden). In Germany, meanwhile, the tax relief for biogenic fuels has been dismantled.
Subsidisation or tax incentives for production: Tax incentives on the production side are common in South America (e.g. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay). Subsidies for biogenic fuel production are key support measures in the United States and Canada.
Blending quotas: In recent years, the European Union, numerous countries in North and South America as well as in Asia (Thailand, Philippines, etc.) have introduced quotas for blending biogenic fuels.
Switzerland, on the other hand, has no blending quotas. The sharp increase in the share of biofuels is based on the compensation obligation enshrined in the CO₂ Act.
Biofuels Switzerland has been fighting for sustainable biofuels for years and is campaigning for their certification according to a Europe-wide standard. Because there is often doubt about the good environmental balance of biofuels. Certificates can counteract this and guarantee sustainable and ecologically sound production. Certification is based on EU Directive 2009/28/EC, which was established by the European Union in 2009.
Fuels are bulk goods that know no borders. The fact that Switzerland does not recognise any of these certification standards - not even the RSB certification standard developed in Switzerland by the EPF Lausanne, which in turn is recognised by all 27 EU countries - is therefore downright shocking. Instead of making use of the undisputed advantages of biofuels in terms of climate technology, official Switzerland is still at odds with the rest of the world.
Certification in Switzerland: BTCert
The production of biogenic fuels has risen sharply in recent years. The share of biogenic fuels in total fuel consumption worldwide was about 3 % in 2009 according to the IEA's World Energy Outlook. By 2050, the share of liquid and gaseous biofuels is expected to rise to 27 %. In relation to global energy consumption, the importance of biogenic fuels is lower, with a share of 0.5 % in 2008. Since then, the production of biogenic fuels has continued to increase, but at the same time so has global energy consumption. In Germany, the share of biofuels in the total fuel market was 4.8 % in 2015.
Currently, bioethanol and biodiesel are available on the market in large quantities, as is HVO to an increasing extent. The production of biomethane does not yet show comparable quantities, and the so-called "advanced biofuels", 3rd generation biofuels, are not yet ready for the market. According to the IEA, a breakthrough of these technologies on a larger scale will only occur in 10 years.
Both ethanol and biodiesel production continue to increase worldwide. Due to the global economic crisis and lower crude oil prices, there was a slowdown in growth in 2009. As shown in the figure above, more than four times as much ethanol as biodiesel was produced in 2010 and 2011.
Biodiesel is produced mainly in the EU, mostly from oil plants such as rapeseed or sunflower, but increasingly also as used frying oil and from free fatty acids that can no longer be used as animal feed. In the USA (and Brazil), biodiesel is produced mainly from soybean oil, and in tropical countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Ecuador, Brazil) increasingly from palm oil, although there are major differences between the individual countries.
Global production of bioethanol experienced the highest growth rates in the years 2006 to 2010. Since then, production has only increased moderately to just under 100,000,000 m3 in 2015. Global biodiesel production was a good 30,000,000 m3 in 2015.
The costs for the production of biogenic fuels are increasingly dependent on the raw materials and production processes used.
Due to the increased demand for sustainable biofuels, the prices for used frying oils also rose sharply in the last two years. Due to the oil price collapse in 2015, the prices for biodiesel therefore only fell moderately.