09 Jul 2010

Biofuels sustainability: JRC methodology for calculating carbon stock changes

Climatic zone data layer defined on basis of IPCC classification
Climatic zone data layer defined on basis of IPCC classification

The JRC has substantially contributed to the new EU system established to ensure that European biofuels and bioliquids come from sustainable sources and meet the highest environmental standards. A key tool is the JRC's methodology to quantify changes to the amount of carbon in soils and biomass when land use changes as a result of biofuels production. This is an important factor in the sustainability assessment. The methodology follows the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories and is supported by comprehensive global data collected by the JRC. The methodology was the basis for the Commission decision on the guidelines for the calculation of land carbon stocks.

The new system, adopted in June by the European Commission, encourages industry, governments and NGOs to set up voluntary certification schemes for all types of biofuels. It will help to ensure that all biofuels, including those imported into the EU, are sustainable and deliver high greenhouse gas (GHG) savings, at least 35% when compared to fossil fuels. It also excludes specific land categories, such as primary forests, wetlands, peatlands and areas with high diversity.

The JRC provided extensive technical and scientific support to the Commission Directive and Communications. This included designing practical measures and procedures for calculating the GHG emissions of various options for producing biofuels and bioliquids. The accompanying global data layers on climate regions and soil types have also been developed by the JRC, following IPCC specifications.

The standard methodology and the carbon stock coefficients together with the data layers will enable economic operators to determine what changes in land carbon stocks might arise from the conversion of land for biofuels production.

The calculation of default values for GHG savings is a complex procedure, which must take into consideration a number of parameters such as the type of fertiliser or pesticide used when growing biofuels, the fuel used by tractors and machinery or the distance to the processing plant and users.

JRC Institutes