RSB moves ahead on sustainability standards

By Susanne Retka Schill | December 21, 2009
Posted December 23, 2009

Two issues-greenhouse gas (GHG) emission thresholds and indirect land use-are still being studied as the Roundtable for Sustainable Biofuels begins the new year in anticipation of having its certification system completed by the end of 2010. Version One of the international voluntary standards was released in November and is now being tested in several places by industry participants, according to Matt Rudolf, regional manager for the Americas for the RSB.

Among the unique features of the RSB to emerge from the November steering committee meeting was a risk-based approach to creating levels of auditing requirements. A low-risk biofuel, such as a waste-based biodiesel produced in a highly efficient, well-monitored system, would face fewer data collection requirements and less frequent recertification protocols than a high risk biofuel. Rudolf said the details of the system are still being worked out, but participating biofuel producers will do an initial self-assessment of their risk that will then be verified by RSB-approved independent certifiers. The risk assessment will encompass multiple factors including the complexity of the operation, the internal processing steps, quality control measure, safety procedures, the geographical spread of the operation, environmental risk factors, social factors, among others.

Defining GHG thresholds for biofuels is another area still being worked out. ""Especially environmental NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) wanted a threshold," Rudolf said. The compromise was to evaluate a range of GHG reduction thresholds over the next six months as part of the pilot tests of Version One to see how different biofuels would score and how expensive it would be to improve a GHG score in order to qualify for higher thresholds. "One of the more difficult issues was choosing a GHG methodology," he added. With the RSB being an international, participatory process it was not politically expedient to select a European Commission, U.S. EPA or California Air Resources Board methodology. In the end a Swiss Federal Laboratories' methodology for life cycle analysis was chosen to be evaluated in the pilot phase.

Indirect land use change is also undergoing further evaluation, Rudolf said, after a workshop held prior to the November RSB meeting. "There appears to be wide agreement that there is a high risk of indirect land use from biofuels," he said. "There's not agreement on the magnitude and also not wide agreement on the best way to address it." An expert panel continues to evaluate current work on indirect land use change which includes representation from Europeans, EPA, CARB, environmental NGOs, academics and industry. Rudolf added that the InterAmerican Development Bank and United National Environmental Program have scheduled an invitation-only meeting in February to bring together the different roundtable groups, regulators and auditors to discuss the challenges of introducing international sustainability standards.

The RSB is hoping to complete its evaluation of Version One and publish Version Two by the end of 2010, according to Rudolf. It also is in discussion with the European Commission to have the RSB standards approved for use in verifying sustainability standards in the EC Renewable Energy Directive that are currently in development. The goal is to begin certifying sustainable biofuel production by the end of 2010 or early 2011.

Documents, reports and minutes of the various meetings are available on the RSB Web site.
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