Last month, the EU-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) published a report attacking Italian energy giant Eni’s use of Palm Fatty Acid Distillate (PFAD) in biofuel production. The report is based on scientific errors and pre-existing bias against palm oil. Unfortunately it epitomizes the hypocrisy shown by many of the promoters of environmental policymaking in Europe.

T&E’s attempts to paint PFAD as somehow unsustainable, is risible and rooted in an old, and long-since disproven, misconception about palm oil cultivation. The reality today is well-known, and widely accepted. PFAD, classified as a “processing residue” by the EU Renewable Energy Directive because it is a waste by-product of palm oil production that producers seek to minimize, is commonly used in products ranging from candles and soaps to animal feed. Now, as demand for sustainable fuel sources grows, it is increasingly important as a feedstock in the production of biodiesel, a sustainable alternative to crude oil-based diesel and aviation fuels that helps to lower fossil fuel emissions from travel and freight.

PFAD can be transformative for industries in Europe and across the world, who are searching for a waste product that is efficiently produced and available in quantity to be used as an advanced energy source. Using PFAD in sustainable biofuels is an efficient way to reduce total environmental impact in alignment with circular economy principles, which advocate recycling existing materials and products as much as possible to avoid excess production and consumption. This is something that European leaders and institutions openly support. In her 2020 State of the Union Address, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said  “I want Next Generation EU to make our Union a leader on circular economy.” The following year, the 69th session of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) was dedicated to “Promoting circular economy and sustainable use of natural resources in the UNECE region.”

Transport & Environment, ironically, also support using waste products as advanced fuels. In a recent blog, they wrote, “If the aviation and shipping sectors are to have any chance of survival in a warming world, Europe is in dire need of policies that require a switch from jet oil to cleaner alternatives.” And yet, in the same breath, the same organization is now lobbying against a sustainable and readily available solution.  The fact that T&E has, with some success, weaponized its platform against PFAD consumers to the sole benefit of European seed oil producers and the detriment of global environmental progress, points to the failure of European stakeholders to deal with the reality of actually delivering their circular economy statements and ambitions.

Science shows that using PFAD in biofuel production is environmentally responsible. It has been proven to work in multiple case studies and test environments, and other PFAD-based products are already widely and safely used in Europe, as ingredients for animal feed, candles and other products. Meanwhile, T&E and other lobbying groups push against extending this use to aviation biofuels, with no scientific explanation. The warm words around circular economy meet with the cold reality of delivery and execution, and some prefer the comfort of press releases to the hard work of making decisions. Removing PFAD from biofuels would mean promoting alternatives that lead to higher emissions, contradicting sustainable development goals, and undermining the renewable energy transition.

Misinformation is bad wherever it comes from. A shift towards a more fact-based, rational discourse is essential to make real-world advances in sustainable practices, and to mitigate environmental harm. Progress lies in the balance of environmental responsibility, economic rationality, and factual integrity, not in protectionist distortions of reality.