Ethanol in gasoline: an immediate solution for renewables in road transport, the potential of E10 deployment in the EU - Summary of webinar by ETIP Bioenergy Working Group 3

Text by Philippe Marchand, chair of Working Group 3. Webinar held in May 2024

2024 starts as a “wait and see” year, with a lot of unknown, to name two big ones, the European election in June, yielding in the second half of the year a new Commission and a new Parliament, or the persistence of inflation, with its impact on the momentum of coercive, and costly for the citizens, environmental regulations: just consider the impact on the incorporation of biofuels into road fuels in Sweden and Finland, in the recent past.

The present EU climate regulations, such as Fit-for-55 or REPower EU, call for increased renewable content and reduced CO2 emissions for transport in 2030, with ambitious objectives in RED III, 28.5 % renewable share, 13 % GHG intensity reduction. As 2030 is the near-future, reliance on conventional biofuels, ethanol for gasoline and FAME/HVO for diesel, seem necessary, which was clearly shown in the modeling performed for the recent study on the development of outlook for the necessary means to build industrial capacity for drop-in advanced biofuels:

Still, ethanol incorporation in gasoline in the EU, possible for 15 years now, is far from its blend wall of 10 %. While this limit was reached in the USA 10 years ago, E10 market share in the 19 European countries out of 27, where E10 is available in the forecourts, is still lagging behind; in large countries like Germany, at 26 %, or France, at 58 %. This low incorporation is despite the good sustainability performance of EU-produced ethanol, audited performance of the vast majority of EU-produced ethanol, from cereals or sugar beets, being close to 80 % GHG intensity reduction.

So, we have asked ePURE, the European trade association of ethanol producers, to give us a helicopter view of the E10 situation in the EU, so that we can debate on the reasons for such a delay in using now a readily available and local solution to meet the renewable content objective, and possibly make recommendations to improve the situation, with 2030 in our sights.

Below are the key take-aways from the presentation provided during the webinar by Carlo Alberto Miani, ePURE Technical Policy and Sustainability Manager.

Renewable content in road fuels has gradually, but slowly, increased in the EU, from 5 % in 2009 to 10 % in 2022 (multiplier effect included, 7 % in volume), remaining dramatically short of the 29 % objective of RED III for 2030.

This is despite the outstanding sustainability of EU-produced ethanol, closing to 80 % CO2 emission abatement, and still increasing, likely achieving 100 % (climate-neutral), with additional measures.

Despite also the nearly-full acceptability of E10 by the EU car fleet: in 2022, only 7 % ethanol is blended on average in the EU.

Owing to a wide variety of E10 penetration in Member States and the fact that 8 countries, as important in terms of gasoline usage as Italy and Spain, still have not yet adopted E10, for various reasons:

  • Strict rules to distribute the protection grade (E5) on each service-station, placing limitations in terms of distribution logistics.
  • Marketing strategy to sell a premium grade, more expensive to manufacture but attracting better margins, thus likely to be the protection grade at low ethanol content (5 %).
  • Limited or no local ethanol production, giving little incentive to fuel logistics and marketing operators to favor ethanol, especially when regulation approaches renewable content on a “pooled” basis (gasoline + diesel) or without minimum ethanol content or with little tax incentive to use ethanol, or when biodiesel production is predominant.
  • Under-information of the motorists and limited political appetite for biofuels.

E20 is under normalization in CEN, hopefully for 2026, but will also require a Fuels Quality Directive update, under European Commission responsibility, before marketing on European forecourts can take place.

Conclusion: as there is no real technical obstacle to E10 full deployment (as proven in Member States that reached 100 % nearly overnight), E10 generalization remains a low-hanging fruit to improve the carbon footprint of road transport now, i.e. without needing to wait for electromobility market pick-up, thus strongly depends on political willingness and stakeholders interest (and cooperation) for increased renewable content in road fuels.

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