Raid on bioethanol: eat or drive, will we soon have to choose?

Two months ago, Sébastien Tardy, 34 years old from Clermont, had a bioethanol conversion box installed on his Clio. A choice he does not regret. “Now I fill up at 30 euros; before, it cost me 75-80 €. With soaring fuel prices, bioethanol (E85), a cocktail made from alcohol and gasoline, is becoming more and more attractive. In order to save money, some motorists no longer hesitate to make mixtures with this fuel at 0.75 cents per liter… at the risk of sometimes damaging their car.

E85 converter box: exponential growth

It is still necessary to have a vehicle compatible with Superethanol-E85 or to obtain a conversion box. The company Flex Fuel Energy Developpement, whose head office is in Sophia-Antipolis, manufactures boxes that convert your petrol car into a bioethanol vehicle.

Since the beginning of the year, it has been a hit. “We sold 16,000 boxes in March 2022, i.e. as many as in 2021, our best year in history”, rejoices Jérôme Loubert, European development director for Flex Fuel Energy Development, who explains this “exponential growth” by the symbolic transition from fuel “to above the 2 euro mark and the panic effect generated on purchasing power”.The installation of superethanol conversion boxes on standard models. A vein on which very few manufacturers have bet.

The call of NGOs to “immediately stop the use of raw materials”

Produced from wheat, corn, beet or sugar and starch residues, E85 thus represents an important outlet for agriculture. Its promoters – agro-industrial and oil companies – also present it as “a means of supporting the French in the transition” and a lever for “energy independence” for France.
Today, the war in Ukraine and the historic surge in agricultural prices are threatening the food security of many poor countries and pushing the European Union (EU) to seek solutions to ensure its own sovereignty. In this context, the use of this sector raises questions: is it not based on agricultural raw materials that can be consumed by human beings?

The NGO Transport & Environment calls with a dozen other NGOs “national governments to immediately stop the use of raw materials based on food and fodder crops in biofuels (…)”

Despite the imminent risk of food shortages, which could push hundreds of millions of people into food poverty, Europe continues to transform 10,000 tonnes of wheat – the equivalent of 15 million loaves of bread (750 grams) – into ethanol every day, for daily use in cars

NGO Transport & Environment

Agricultural land mobilized

The promoters – agro-industrial and oil – of biofuels defend the sector by presenting it as “a means of supporting the French in the ecological transition” and a lever of “energy independence” for France. False according to Greenpeace. “First-generation biofuels are in fact produced mainly using agricultural raw materials, such as palm oil, soybeans, wheat or even beets. To produce these agrofuels, it is thus necessary to monopolize more agricultural land… and therefore to destroy natural ecosystems and deforest”, advances the organization.

Bioethanol fills up at the pump

Different background

For Christophe Gouel, research director at the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment, Europe must suspend this support. “It is time to send a strong signal and to be clear about the priorities given to European agriculture: feeding people, feeding animals, feeding the soil and – in the event of surpluses – feeding cars; but certainly not in the reverse order. »

According to this expert, suspending support for biofuels can help offset the surge in agricultural prices. “We can ask ourselves the question of the relevance of maintaining these support policies in the current context. It makes no sense that the use of agricultural products should be a priority for biofuels, more than for food use. The agricultural lobbies put forward the fact of producing more, and the ministry follows on this. There is no questioning of this support, ”he laments.

Benoit Davrion, researcher in economics and research management at CIRAD (centre for international cooperation in agronomic research for development), shares this point of view: the biofuel sector could represent a lever to offset the surge in agricultural prices which threatens the Food Safety. “At one time, the main problem in agriculture was the question of surpluses: what to do with them? Animal feed absorbed a lot of cereals; food aid has been promoted globally and corn-based sugar substitutes in the United States. The last avatar was biofuels, which were first thought of as a question of managing surpluses. Except that the situation has changed a lot today. »

Renewable energies: is France the bad student of Europe?

Nicolas Faucon

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