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On the road to nowhere….

Posted 20/07/2010 by RoseS

…was how one speaker at today’s Westminster Energy, Environment & Transport biofuel seminar described Europe’s drive to develop alternative transportation fuels.

Mark Harvey, director of the Centre for Research in Economic Sociology and Innovation at the University of Essex, echoed what other speakers also noted that in order to deliver a transition to sustainable transport energy strong, long-term strategic political direction is required, together with strong state support and steering from basic science to commercialisation. ‘Market signals will not drive radical, comprehensive or urgent technological change,’ he added.

And the consensus was that Europe has failed to deliver on either count, unlike the US and Brazil, where, Harvey pointed out, consistent and long term planning and government support, over the last couple of decades in the US and over three decades in Brazil, had delivered major progress in the development of transportation biofuels. This planning and support resulted from the impact of oil shocks in the latter part of the twentieth century, but Europe failed to respond to those same oil shocks in the biofuel field, said Harvey.

Instead, Europe, which is still one of the three main biofuel markets, has been ‘dithering in diversity’. This was due, said Harvey, to Europe’s primary goal of climate change mitigation, rather than energy security in both the US and Brazil.

While both the US and Brazil are now looking at biodiesel and second generation cellulosic ethanol, Harvey emphasised that Europe is trapped in biodiesel. The one optimistic aspect of Europe’s love affair with diesel is the speed of change and take-up of this particular transportation fuel, from the development of suitable engines and drive trains to the widespread availability of the fuel. This demonstrates that if Europe could be mobilised then it too could make similar major strides in biofuel developments, he added.

Within Europe, there is also the problem of individual countries pulling in different directions in the midst of a lack of strategic political direction and an environment uniquely characterised by strong anti-biofuel lobbying. Europe’s one success, however, has resulted from its sustainability approach and that is a strong regulatory framework, said Harvey, adding that regrettably this framework is without adequate means to deliver.

All this is not to say that the technological development is not available in Europe; it is as other speakers including Lars Christian Hansen, president, Europe, at Danish enzyme specialist Novozymes, emphasised. But as Hansen also emphasised, legislation is the key to encouraging innovation.

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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