Bart-Willem ten Cate: why we need biofuels on the road to 2030 climate targets

Bart-Willem ten Cate, Low-Carbon Strategist at FinCo Fuel Group BV, has been advocating for sustainability measures in transport for almost two decades. He believes “sustainability is becoming a licence to operate”, and tells us why low-carbon fuels have to be part of the energy transition – and how young people are key to success.

Photo credit: Henk Wildschut

 

During your career, have you noted a change in sustainability awareness?

I've been advocating for sustainability since 2003, and it was then that the oil market started to realise it had to take more responsibility and action to bring down transport’s carbon emissions. Transport is the only sector in Europe that hasn't been able to cut down on CO2 emissions.

Awareness is now also growing among our customers – especially from the B2B side. The biofuels industry has been driving this trough issuing sustainability certifications. Sustainability is becoming a licence to operate, and customers are increasingly focused on the origin of the feedstock [raw materials].

How have you responded to that shift in awareness?

Investment in upstream is very important. To secure the right feedstock, you need to build partnerships in the supply chain and set up projects that give you access to sustainable waste stream feedstocks for the long term.

At FinCo, we have strict policies on the use of palm oil, soy oil, and the types of biomass that we use in our system. We use no feedstock that has an indirect land use impact. Our management also set stringent and binding targets for CO2 reductions of the fuel we will bring to the market over the coming decade – these targets go beyond what the law requires. Explaining these criteria to the FinCo team and ensuring that everyone fully supports this strategy is an important part of my job. I've also been working with the Dutch government to set up biofuel legislation, as well as with non-governmental organisations to get their buy-in.

Companies are increasingly aware that they need to change, but there's not always enough motivation, inspiration, and insight to set sustainability in motion. We need to involve younger talents with fresh, open minds to help us: they can accelerate the energy transition.

That's one of the reasons why our new headquarters is located next to Erasmus University in Rotterdam – we're really looking forward to working with the young graduates who will help FinCo to speed up the move towards sustainability.

Who inspires you, and what have you learnt from them?

My hero has always been speedskater Eric Heiden, who won five gold medals in the Winter Olympic Games in 1980. It was his innovative training methods that really made him special, showing that you need to innovate in order to stay competitive.

I'm a coach for younger speedskaters at the moment, and I always tell them to try different things to improve. That’s the way we work at FinCo as well – we do things differently and learn from it. With real projects and examples we show that we can have an impact on the energy transition, and that makes people enthusiastic about tackling actual targets.

What role do you expect biofuels to play in the energy transition?

We expect that, by 2030, 90% of all transport in Europe will still have combustion engines and will need liquid fuel. So biofuels and low-carbon liquid and gaseous fuels will be an essential intermediate step in the energy transition.

It's good to look at new energy carriers such as hydrogen and electricity as promising solutions for the future. Right now they’re still high-cost strategies that need to be developed before they take significant market share from existing drive trains. They will help reduce carbon emissions from transport, but not enough to meet the reduction required to achieve our climate objectives. We need ways to meet the Paris Agreement targets and stay within the 2oC level. Which means we need scale, and to do that, we will have to transition through sustainable renewable fuels.

The climate won’t wait, and we don’t have the time to wait for the ‘perfect’ solution. We need to act fast, and we need to act now.

Do you need more clarity from policy-makers to secure long-term investment for biofuels?

In the mindset of some policy makers, what was very sustainable last year probably won’t be sustainable next year. If you’re an active market player in this sector and want to invest in sustainability, you need a long-term horizon, otherwise it doesn't pay off. We want clarity from the government that biofuels really are the focus until at least 2030 and on what the policies will be until then. This shouldn't change every year. They need to be careful not to declare different fuel options as undesirable after a year.

From an investor’s perspective, the government should be driving the energy transition by facilitating long-term, technology neutral, legislation that makes it possible to reach climate goals. Hopefully, we’ll get that with the EU’s RED II [Renewable Energy Directive II]. But it's sometimes not clear to what extent individual countries will implement and legislate RED II to achieve 2030 targets. We need to accept that during the transition phase, not everything will be perfect.

 

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