What is renewable fuel?

By ENGIE - 26 October 2022 - 15:48

Accounting for over a third* of the world’s CO2 emissions, transport represents a major challenge for achieving carbon neutrality. While electricity provides a solution for clean mobility for light vehicles, it is not adapted to heavy transport, i.e. maritime, trains, trucks, air etc. This is where renewable fuels come into play, classified by the European Union into four families. Let’s have a closer look...



Defined by European legislation as liquid or gaseous fuels obtained from biomass: biodegradable products and waste from agriculture, forestry or fishing, biodegradable industrial and municipal waste, etc. 

This is the case, for example, of bioethanol, which is mixed with petrol to obtain a biofuel. It is produced from the fermentation of sugars contained in beetroot or sugar cane, wine residues, etc. 
For diesel motors, we use fatty acid methyl esters (FAMEs), which are obtained from oils, animal fats or fatty waste. Already available in-service stations for our passenger vehicles, they are also adapted for air transport: biokerosene and biojet can thus be added to conventional petroleum jet fuels at quantities of up to 50%. 


Advanced biofuels

A new generation of biofuels is being developed. These are known as advanced biofuels and are exclusively produced from non-food resources, such as agricultural residues, forestry waste or dedicated crops. They offer numerous advantages: greater efficiency, promotion of the forestry sector, preservation of agricultural resources for our food needs, etc.


E-fuels (or synthetic fuels)

E-fuels offer another future solution for decarbonizing heavy transport. The idea is to combine renewable hydrogen – obtained via water electrolysis with renewable electricity – with another molecule, such as CO2 or nitrogen. Through chemical reactions, different e-fuels, such as e-kerosene, e-methanol, e-diesel, etc., can then be produced to power, ships, trains or planes.


There are two families of synthetic fuels: 

  • RFNBOs (Renewable Fuels of Non Biological Origin), liquid or gaseous renewable fuels for which biological sources are not used, 
  • and RCFs (Recycle Carbon Fuel) which have the added advantage of recycling carbon emitted, in particular, by industrial activities.


>> Find out more on e-fuels <<


An evolving European regulatory framework
  • First passed in 2009, the European Renewable Energy Directive, known as RED, promotes “the use of energy from renewable sources”, including renewable fuels. The criteria for defining these fuels are modified each time the RED is amended, according to advances and innovations that can make transport more sustainable. 
  • In September 2022, the European Parliament voted its final position on the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III), reflecting its desire to accelerate the development of renewable energies, increasing their share of the EU’s global energy consumption to 45% by 2030. 
  • Thus, the Directive invites its Member States to use advanced biofuels and renewable fuels of non-biological origin in order to reduce transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by 16%.



*Source / International Energy Agency