Biofuels for traffic

Quick, cost-effective way to reduce emissions

EU aims to reduce transport emissions and dependence on oil. The target is to increase the use of renewable energy in transport by 2020, so that its share will account to 10% of energy content of fuels. The legislation for 2030 is still under way. All in all, the EU provides the legal framework designed to guide the development in the right direction, whether it concerns emissions from transport, alternative fuels or legislation on biofuels.

Road infrastructure, i.e. vehicle fleet and fuel distribution systems are largely based on liquid fuels. An introduction of the alternative, completely new technologies is slowed by the fact that the renewal of the existing vehicle fleet is not fast enough and the construction of completely new fuel delivery systems is expensive.

In addition to the energy efficiency, high-quality and sustainably produced liquid biofuels are the fastest and the most cost-effective way to reduce transport greenhouse gas emissions. The advantage of liquid biofuels is that their use does not require major changes or additional investments in existing infrastructure compared to other fuels. For example, electricity and gas require a construction of the entirely new large-scale transport infrastructure.

From a global perspective, Finland is a pioneer in the production of high-quality biofuels. We have an excellent starting position attributable to technological competence and diverse raw material base. In addition, the ability to utilise the traditional industrial know-how in a cross-industrial manner gives rise to the creation of entirely new industries. Currently, biofuels are some of Finland's top exports, which brings much-needed export revenues strengthening the national economy.

Biofuels reduce CO2 emissions

Finland has set a goal in the long-term climate and energy strategy to reduce carbon emissions from transport, in other words, CO2 emissions, by 15% by 2020 compared to 2005 emissions level.

Finland aims to reduce about 4 million tonnes of CO2, and it is estimated that one fourth of it can be achieve by increasing renewable energy in transport. In practice, this means more biofuels, because the adoption of other alternative energy sources grows at a slow rate.

Finnish target is 20% renewables in 2020

Finland has set target for the share of renewable energy in transport sector even more stringent than the EU and aims to reach a 20% share in 2020. National legislation on distribution obligation of biofuels currently applies only to biofuels used in the road transport.

Distribution obligation requires that the share of biofuels in the total energy content of petrol, diesel oil and biofuels supplied by the distributor of transport fuels must account to at least

  • 6% in 2011-2014
  • 8% in 2015
  • 10% in 2016
  • 12% in 2017
  • 15% in 2018
  • 18% in 2019 and
  • 20% in 2020

The target can be achieved if the production investments in domestic new technology-based, second-generation double counted biofuels will be mobilised in a timely manner.

Waste, residues as well as inedible cellulose or lignocellulose are used as feedstock to produce double counted biofuels. This double counting system will apply until 2020.

Fuel Quality Directive and transport

Quality standards for gasoline and other transport fuels are based on framework set by the EU Fuel Quality Directive. It has set a target of reducing carbon intensity of fuels by 10% by 2020.

Of this, 6% is a binding obligation and 4% is based on voluntary measures. In practice, the mandatory share will be implemented by increasing the biological components in fuels.

The Fuel Quality Directive also defines the limit values for biocomponents in fuels: petrol may contain up to 10% v/v ethanol and diesel up to 7% v/v FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester), most typically rapeseed-based biodiesel.

In Finland, the biocomponent in diesel oil available on the market comes mostly from the domestic refinery and is hydrotreated vegetable oil refined from renewable raw materials, or hydrogenated animal fat (HVO, Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil). The share of this biocomponent is not limited because its chemical composition is similar to fossil diesel oil.

Diesel oil that contains the so-called first generation biodiesel (FAME) with up to 7% v/v biocomponent can also be put on the market.

In Finland, all transport fuels with biocomponents

All transport fuels distributed in Finland contain biocomponents. The amount of these components is based on the limit values set by the national fuel quality regulation and quality criteria standards.

According to the quality regulation, the maximum oxygen content in 95 E10 petrol is 3.7 per cent by mass and ethanol content is up to 10 per cent by volume.

The maximum oxygen content in 95 E5 petrol is 2.7 mass% and ethanol content is up to 5% by volume.

In addition, the limit values for fuel oxygenates other than ethanol contents are defined as follows:

  • methanol 3% v/v
  • isopropyl alcohol 12% v/v
  • tert-butyl alcohol 15% v/v
  • isobutyl alcohol 15% v/v
  • ethers containing 5 or more carbon atoms per molecule 22% v/v (e.g. ETBE, MTBE, TAEE, TAME)
  • other oxygenates 15% v/v

Biocomponents in liquid fuels

Biofuels suitable for fuel logistics

Traditional liquid fossil fuels will be replaced by biofuels produced from renewable raw materials. Most commonly the aim is to produce biofuels that can be blended in accordance with the current standards for petrol engine and diesel motor fuels.

The factors guiding biofuel production seek to introduce the residue feedstock so that biofuels do not compete with food production for the use of the same raw materials.

Technically, it is intended to produce biofuels in such a way that they will suitable for storage and sale through an existing fuel logistics and for use in existing and generally manufactured vehicles. This will facilitate faster and more cost-efficient transition to the use of biofuels.

Biocomponents in petrol motor fuels

Oxygen content in the most common biocomponents, alcohols and ethers, limits their use in the majority of the vehicle fleet.

Petrol grades labelled E5 or E10 following the octane number refer to the maximum ethanol content of 5% v/v or 10% v/v. The product may not contain any ethanol, as the biocomponent could also be yield from some other blending component, such as ethers (ETBE, TAEE) or synthetic biogasoline (which, however, does not contain oxygen).

However, from the user's perspective, this is not a decisive factor, but the engine running normally on the product regardless of whether it contains ethanol or other allowed biocomponents. A limiting factor is the oxygen content in the fuel, which is limited to 2.7 mass% for E5 and 3.7 mass% for E10.


The most common biocomponent blended in gasoline is bioethanol contained in ethyl alcohol, which is the most popular and widely used biofuel in the world.

Ethanol is traditionally produced by fermentation process, where sugar and starchy materials, such as sugar cane, corn, wheat and potatoes are used as feedstock. The United States and Brazil are the countries that dominate ethanol production. In Europe, the largest producers are France, Germany and Spain, producing bioethanol mainly from sugar beet and wheat.

In Finland, ethanol is produced from the the food and baking industry and by the method of decentralised production from side-streams. Also, separately collected household, commercial and industrial biowaste and residues are used as feedstock for liquid transport fuels in the domestic ethanol production.

Bioethanol can also be produced from lignocellulose so that the used raw material is hydrolysed before the fermentation process. The expansion of raw material base to cellulose-based raw materials allows to use the sorted municipal waste so that the packaging waste suitable for raw material can be separately collected and sorted mechanically after collection. The development of cellulose-based ethanol production has created conditions to produce ethanol also from the straw generated as agricultural side-stream and from sawdust.

Bioethanol can be blended at different concentrations in the fossil fuels. In Finland, 95 E10 petrol contains up to 10% v/v ethanol and some ethers. 98 E5 petrol contains up to 5% v/v ethanol.

E85 high-blend ethanol fuel E85 that contains up to 85% v/v ethanol can also be produced from bioethanol. In Finland, high-blend ethanol fuel containing 70-85% v/v ethanol blended into gasoline is available on the market.

Ethers (ETBE, TAEE) derived from bioethanol

Ethers suitable for fuel can also be produced from bioethanol and hydrocarbons to yield partly bio-based ether.

Ethyl tert-butyl ether (ETBE) and tert-amyl methyl ether (TAEE) are high octane oxygenates used as gasoline additive. They intended use is to improve gasoline combustion and to reduce generated emissions.

The main benefits achieved by using ETBE and TAEE include low sulphur and low aromatics content, reduction of combustion-generated carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide emissions and a high octane number. Due to high number, lead compounds used to increase the octane rating can be replaced by, for example, ETBE. ETBE and TAEE can be blended up to 22% v/v in gasoline according to the requirements of the EN 228 quality standard for gasoline.

Other gasoline biocomponents

In addition to ethanol and ethers further processed from ethanol, there are other biocomponents to increase the bio-content in gasoline.

Gasoline biocomponents similar to ethanol in terms of technical specifications for fuel include, for example, biobutanol and biomethanol and bioethers manufactured from it, such as methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). These components provide a wider selection of residue feedstock for use in petrol engines, so that the production of biofuels does not compete with food production for the use of the same raw materials. The use of these alcohols and ethers as oxygenated fuels is also limited by the restrictions set by the existing vehicle fleet for the oxygen content in fuel.

In addition to bioalcohols and bioethers, biogasoline can be manufactures as part of the production in the modern petroleum refineries, built primarily to produce renewable diesel (HVO, BTL).

Also, part of crude oil in the refineries producing fossil oil products from crude oil can be replaced with bio-based raw materials (the so-called "co-feed") to manufacture biogasoline. Biogasoline produced using these methods has considerably higher energy content compared to alcohols and ethers and is suitable for use as such in the existing vehicle fleet without any technical engine restrictions.

By combining different oxygenated and non-oxygenated biocomponents, the share of renewable energy can be increase in gasoline by even more than 20 per cent, without causing compatibility problems in the existing vehicle fleet. With the combination of best biocomponents, car exhaust fumes are less harmful than when using fossil fuels.

Biocomponents in diesel motor fuels

Biodiesel FAME (Fatty Acid Methyl Ester)

Biodiesel is a generic term that covers the methyl esters made from organic raw material, FAMEs. Biodiesel can be produced by the transesterification of vegetable oils or animal fats.

Rapeseed is one of the Europe's most important oil crops and the most common feedstock for biodiesel. Biodiesel from rapeseed is known as rapeseed methyl ester (RME - Rapeseed Methyl Ester). In Europe, the European EN 14214 standard has been drawn up for FAME. The standard doest not set any limits for the used raw material.

According to the Fuel Quality Directive and EN 590 standard, only FAME-type products are called biodiesel and its content in diesel oil is currently limited to a maximum of 7 per cent by volume. 

Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO)

Hydrogenated vegetable oil, i.e. HVO, is biofuel typically blended in diesel. Chemically, HVO diesel is oxygen-free hydrocarbon product similar to a conventional hydrocarbon diesel fuel, only of biological origin. According to the EU directives, HVO is not biodiesel but synthetic fuel, paraffin diesel, produced from oil plants or animal fat by hydrotreatng process. In Europe and North America, it is called "Renewable Diesel" for the sake of clarity and to differentiate from biodiesel.

There is a constant search for new raw materials to use for HVO feedstock. Even today a wide range of raw materials, such as vegetable oils, waste animal fat or residue streams from vegetable oil production is already used. In particular, the wood-based raw materials, non-edible vegetable oils as well as algal and microbial oils are the subject of interest as the future new alternative raw materials.

Renewable diesel is suitable for all diesel engines basically unchanged.

The Fuel Quality Directive and standard for diesel do not limit the HVO content in diesel fuel, as long as the other numerical quality standards are met. In practice, HVO can be blended up to 30-50% v/v, depending on the fossil diesel properties.

Fischer-Tropsch fuels, BTL (Biomass to Liquids)

BTL diesel produced from solid mass and forestry residue using Fischer-Tropsch (FT) synthesis and gasification is a synthetic, paraffinic diesel.

For example, wood waste feedstock from the forest industry, agricultural waste, municipal waste or other types of plants can be use as raw materials. Although gasification and FT synthesis are currently used mainly in the production of diesel, the process can also be optimised to gasoline production.

The biggest challenge of the large-scale BTL plant is its high investment cost. BTL diesel is produced so far only at pilot plants in small amounts, but in Finland, a number of companies sees significant opportunities in the domestic wood-based BTL production.

Ethanol diesel (ED95)

Ethanol, as such, is not suitable for diesel engine due to its poor ignition, i.e. high octane rating. For technical reasons, ethanol used in ethanol diesel can contain water up to 6.5 mass%, in order to keep nitrogen oxide levels in exhaust gases as low as possible.

Ethanol diesel typically contains 92% of hydrous ethanol, 5% of additives that improve ignition and 3% of ethers and isobutanol. The latter act as denaturing agents. Ethanol diesel is not suitable for conventional diesel engines, but it requires the engine, which materials, fuel injectors and starter motor are designed for a high ethanol content. Currently, only Scania manufactures them on a large scale. Finland is starting to use ethanol diesel encouraged by good experiences during pilot experiments.

Constant search for new raw materials

There is a constant search for new raw materials to use for both FAMR and HVO feedstock. In particular, breeding of non-edible vegetable oils as well as algal and microbial oils as raw material for biofuels are subject of interest, but the large-scale commercial production is still far away.

In the future, the raw material base will also extended to the cellulose-based raw materials, which enables the use of sorted municipal waste.

Packaging waste suitable for raw material, which can be separately collected and sorted mechanically after collection. The development of cellulose-based ethanol production creates conditions to produce ethanol also from the straw generated as agricultural side-stream.

Biofuel sustainability requirements

Sustainability criteria and emissions reduction targets

Sustainability criteria for biofuels and emissions reduction targets must meet the EU sustainability criteria and reduce greenhouse gas emissions so that they can be counted towards biofuel obligations and can be qualified for tax incentives in excise duty for low emissions.

Fulfilment of the requirements is closely monitored. The operators who bring fuel to market must report to the Member States. The Member States, in turn, report to the European Commission.

The general rule is that the biofuel may not be produced from raw material obtained from areas of high biodiversity (conservation areas, primeval forests, etc.) or from land with high carbon stock (swamps, wetlands, certain types of forests).

In addition, the use of biofuels must achieve greenhouse gas emission reduction compared to fossil fuels. According to the Renewable Energy Directive emission reduction must be at least 35%.

These criteria were tightened further when the so-called ILUC (Indirect Land Use Change) Directive (2012/0288 (COD) related to biofuels finally entered into force, and at the same time the necessary changes were made in both the Fuel Quality Directive (FQD Directive 98/70 / EC) and the Renewable Energy Directive (RES Directive 2009/28 / EC).

Calculation of greenhouse gas emissions

Emission reductions and life cycle emissions of typical biofuels are calculated in the Renewable Energy Directive.

The calculation of biofuel greenhouse gas emissions takes into account emissions from cultivation of raw material, production, processing, transportation and distribution. The operators must verify the sustainability of used biofuels with certificates of origin.

National Act on Sustainability

In Finland, the national Act on sustainability of biofuels and bioliquids came into force on 1.7.2013.

The Energy Authority carries out official duties in compliance with the Act. They include the approval of sustainability verifiers biofuels, the approval of sustainable systems operators, monitoring compliance with the Act and preliminary decisions on double counted raw materials. The guidelines complementing the Act can be found on the Authority's website.

Double counted biofuels

With biofuel obligations tightening in the next few years, Finland aims to increase its own production of biofuels, which will utilise directives' account for twice counted (the so-called double counted) biofuels. In this case, biofuels produced from certain raw materials can be double counted towards biofuel obligation because their life cycle emissions are up to 80-90% lower than those of fossil fuels. The current prospect is that the double counting option is valid until 2020, after which it will be removed from the ILUC Directive as agreed.

Biofuels produced from waste, residue and non-food cellulose and lignocellulose are accepted as double counted raw materials.

Waste-based bioethanol and forestry residue-based biodiesel produced in Finland meet the criteria for double counted biofuels. Waste, residues or other non-food cellulose and lignocellulose are used in them as raw materials.

The future of sustainability criteria, circular economy

The EU has set the most rigorous sustainability requirements in the world for the production and use of liquid biofuels and will most likely still tighten them further.

For the future of sustainable transport, it is important that the sustainability criteria would be global and that they would be extended to affect, in addition to the production of biofuels, also other industrial sectors such as chemistry and food industries. These industries use the same raw materials as the production of biofuels, but in much larger quantities.

We are increasingly transitioning to the circular economy in which one industry's waste is another's raw material. It is essential that the legislative limits related to raw materials do no set various industrial products manufactured from the same raw material in an unequal position between each other, but all the productions based on waste and residue materials are regarded as recycling.

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