Scientific Committee of the European Environment Agency releases opinion on bioenergy, calls for focus on additionality

Alternative fuels Life-cycle analyses
Fuels GHG emissions

The European Environment Agency’s Scientific Committee released on 16 September an opinion on GHG accounting in relation to bioenergy. The opinion argues that it is incorrect to assume that using biomass for energy automatically reduces overall carbon emissions. Rather, it argues that additional carbon sequestration from the atmosphere must be demonstrated, or else you may have simply replaced the release of carbon from a long term store (fossil fuel deposits) with the release of carbon from a shorter term store (terrestrial biomass) with no net carbon reduction. On this basis the Committee recommends (among other things) that:

European Union regulations and policy targets should be revised to encourage bioenergy use only from additional biomass that reduces greenhouse gas emissions, without displacing other ecosystems services such as the provision of food and the production of fibre.

The full opinion can be downloaded from

The European Commission Directorate General for Energy (DG Energy) responded in the New York Times to the committee’s opinion, claiming that it is based on work published in the journal Science by Tim Searchinger that has been disputed. DG Energy spokesperson Marlene Holzner pointed EurActiv to a rebuttal of Searchinger’s paper by the consultancy Ecometrica from July 2010 in which they argue that there is a direct emissions reduction if using crops for biofuel prevents them from being eaten and the consequent respiration:

The direct reduction occurs because we have replaced one short-cycle flow of carbon (food cultivation, consumption, and respiration) with another (biofuel feedstock cultivation and combustion).

There is a counter-response to this Ecometrica paper available on Tim Searchinger’s website, also from July 2010, in which Searchinger notes that his “paper explicitly acknowledges that the diversion of crops could be considered a direct greenhouse gas reduction for precisely this reason”, but argues that his original argument stands because “advocates of biofuels do not argue that biofuels are good because they will cause people to consume less food. They argue the opposite and contend that all food is replaced.”

Similar arguments to Searchinger’s have been advanced in a recent paper by John DeCicco.