Biofuels and Other Bioliquids—Facts and Perspectives

New EU sustainability criteria for biofuels and other bioliquids must be complied with and verified by an independent third party at every stage of the production process.
By Igor Dormuth and Elena Schmidt | November 01, 2011

The current flagship report of the German Advisory Council on Global Change emphasizes the urgency of a sustainable economic strategy and demonstrates its feasibility. Central aspects include resource protection and decarbonization or low-carbon economy. Expansion of energy from renewable sources and of the required infrastructure should be the central interest. The EU has laid the basis for this expansion with its directive on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources. Germany transposed the EU directive into its national legislation, the Biofuel Sustainability Ordinance (Biokraft-NachV), the Ordinance on Requirements Pertaining to the Sustainable Production of Bioliquids for Electricity Production (BioST-NAchV) and the German Renewable Energy Act, which is due for another revision in 2012.

Under the sustainability strategy of the EU and the German government, the production of electricity from bioliquids and biofuels is only eligible for support against the submission of sustainability certificates. The criteria are set forth in a host of regulations including the BioSt-NachV and the Biokraft-NachV. To be eligible for tax reductions and crediting to the national biofuel quota, each stage of the production and distribution pathways must be certified. This also applies to the remuneration of electricity from bioliquids under the German Renewable Energy Act.

Certification assesses various aspects including emissions caused by the production of raw materials or the energy carriers used to produce bioliquids and biogas, and by transport. Further requirements include measures to protect land, water and air, restore degraded areas and avoid excessive water consumption. To be recognized on the European market, biofuels must at minimum fulfill the criteria laid down in the EU directive.

Third-Party Certification

Sustainability certification is conducted by independent auditing companies such as TÜV SÜD Industrie Service, which are accredited by organizations including the Federal German Agency for Agriculture and Food. All stakeholders or producers intending to benefit from funding under the EU support scheme in ways such as crediting to the national biofuel quota need to fulfill these criteria. As sustainability must be assessed across the biofuel's entire life cycle, the TÜV SÜD auditors examine all stages of the production processes:

• Is the raw material cultivated in a sustainable manner?

• Are areas of high conservation value protected?

• Is the chain of custody traceable and verifiable?

• What emissions are caused at each step of the production process?

• Does the biofuel produce at least 35 percent emissions reductions compared to fossil fuels?

By 2017, biofuel and other bioliquids, including bioethanol, biomethane or biodiesel, must slash greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50 percent—and from 2018 on by 60 percent—compared to fossil fuels.

Steps to certification include selecting the right certification scheme, registration and an optional preliminary audit. Before a certificate can be issued, the biofuel or bioliquid must undergo conformity assessment to prove that the above criteria have been met.

Accounting Method and Systems

To calculate GHG reduction potential, total biofuel emissions are compared against a fossil fuel comparator (reference value). The fossil fuel comparator of petrol, for example, is 83.8 grams carbon dioxide equivalent per megajoule (MJ) of energy. GHGs include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide with a global warming potential (in carbon dioxide equivalents) of 296, and methane with a global warming potential (in carbon dioxide equivalents) of 23. To facilitate the process, the directive provides standard values that can be used by biofuel producers, indicating the carbon emissions caused at various stages of the production process.

If the individual value of a biofuel is more favorable than the standard value defined in the directive, separate calculation is recommendable. For this purpose, the auditors review all data submitted, for example the amount of fertilizer used in biomass production. In the case of highly efficient biofuel production, separate calculation may also be a good choice as low-energy consumption improves the carbon footprint. When certified and noncertified biomass are mixed, a mass balance system must be applied.

In addition to the above aspects, emissions caused by changes in land use are included in the calculation of the reference value. To prevent these emissions, the EU defines the types of cultivation areas that are permitted for the cultivation of biomass. High-carbon-stock land and areas characterized by a high degree of biodiversity are excluded. However, as long as sustainability criteria do not apply to the cultivation of other agricultural crops, indirect changes in land use will continue to be a problem. Displacement effects arise when biomass cultivated on areas with permission for cultivation replaces the original agricultural crop, which then in turn is cultivated on ecologically sensitive areas.

Abolishing the Blending Quota

The EU aims to raise the percentage of energy from renewable sources in the transport sector to 10 percent by 2020. The German act on the biofuel quota, which came into effect in 2007, provided for biofuels to account for 6.25 percent of the fuel demand from 2010 on. As of 2015, the lawmakers intend to change the system from blending quotas (assessment of energy efficiency) to continuously rising GHG reduction targets. For example, biofuels are to reduce total GHG emissions from fuel combustion and production by 3 percent at the outset, by 4.5 percent as of 2017 and by 7 percent from 2020.

This favors biofuels that involve a major reduction in GHGs, and the price will then be coupled to the GHG balance: the higher the reduction in emissions compared to fossil energy carriers, the higher the financial value of biofuel. This increases the pressure on the biofuel industry. Cost reductions throughout the production chain require innovations, a change in investment strategies and improved efficiency. The measures involved extend from larger production plants (economies of scale enable more cost-effective production) and more efficient use of process energy to changes in crop rotation within the scope of the cultivation of raw materials.

Case Study: Bioliquids in the Paper-Pulp Industry: Waste liquor, a byproduct in paper-pulp production, can be used in industrial plants to generate electricity and heat. Electricity generated from waste liquor is eligible for remuneration under Germany's Renewable Energy Act. TÜV SÜD certified the use of the biofuel in accordance with the REDcert standard at all six major paper-pulp plants in Germany. As there has been no experience with the certification of waste liquor, TÜV SÜD aligned its certification process to the requirements of the standard. Sustainability certification covers assessment of management criteria and production processes and the verification of the mass balance and GHG accounting. The production of electricity from waste liquor saves at least 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions compared to fossil fuels. As waste liquor is considered a residue under the BioSt-NachV, emissions from the upstream production chain need not be taken into consideration, providing waste liquor with an ideal carbon footprint.

Case study: Biomethane: In accordance with its target of injecting 10 billion cubic meters of biomethane per year into the natural gas grid by 2030, the German government subsidizes the upgrading of raw biogas to natural gas quality under the Renewable Energy Act. Biomethane can be used to produce electricity and heat and as a fuel. Another possibility is to store large amounts of biomethane in underground caverns and convert it into electricity as needed. This solution would permit the natural gas grid to back up the electricity grid, improving the security of supply and of the grid. However, geographical separation of production and consumption makes assessment of the entire production and distribution chain an absolute must. To cater to this need, TÜV SÜD's biogas and biofuel experts developed the new "Green Methane" certification. Using a substantiated catalogue of criteria as basis, the experts certify not only production and upgrading but also the distribution and the products offered to end-consumers. The three-stage process offers transparency along the entire value chain.

From 2017 and beyond, when biofuels will save 50 percent instead of 35 percent of GHG emissions compared to fossil fuels, manufacturers will be forced to optimize their production processes further. However, biofuels and other bioliquids are subject to complex and multifaceted legal regulations. TÜV SÜD's independent and impartial experts can assist market players throughout all stages of the value chain.

Authors:  Igor Dormuth and Elena Schmidt
Product Managers
TÜV SÜD Industrie Service
089 / 5791-2246