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Biodiesel study for railways

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STRIA Roadmaps
Low-emission alternative energy for transport (ALT)
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Transport policies
Environmental/Emissions aspects


Background & Policy context

The International Union of Railways (UIC) plans to hold a workshop on biofuels in July 2007. To provide background information for this workshop, UIC commissioned ATOC to produce a study on ‘Railways and biofuels to identify experience with the use of biofuels on the railways of selected European and other countries. 


The objective of the project is to prepare  a background information for workshop on biofuels. 

In the EU, the main policy instrument to promote the use of biofuels by transport is the biofuels Directive (Directive 2003/30/EC), which is arguably the most important instrument in the world that has stimulated the recent increases in the production of biodiesel.

Even though the Directive does not explicitly prefer one biofuel to another, the use of biodiesel in the EU has increased as a result of the Directive, more than the use of bioethanol. Although the Directive does not set legally binding, i.e. mandatory, targets, it does require Member States to set national targets for the introduction of biofuels and proposes ‘reference values’ that the Member States should take into account. 


The project’s methodology included a review of literature and internet-based sources, such as the websites of relevant organizations, and a survey of UIC members. The literature review included documentation supplied by ATOC, as well as documents and information supplied by or obtained from other stakeholders, such as the IEA and the European biodiesel Board.  

The survey of UIC members was based on a questionnaire that was circulated to selected operating companies in EU Member States, as well as those in a number of other European countries and countries elsewhere in the world.

Of these, ATOC identified fifteen key countries that should be the focus of the work, seven of which are EU Member States. The questionnaire was drafted by AEA and subsequently finalized by taking into account comments from ATOC and UIC. Where questionnaire responses were not received from key countries, interviews with relevant stakeholders were undertaken to obtain the necessary information.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Non-profit organisation
Institution Name
UIC - Union Internationale des Chemins de fer
Type of funding


The use of biofuels (fuels produced from organic sources, i.e. crops, waste organic material or oil) is currently being promoted as a transport fuel, as they have the potential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, gases that contribute to climate change. They can also increase energy security, i.e. reducing a country’s reliance on imported energy products.  

The principal forms of biofuel are biodiesel, which can be blended with, or replace diesel, and bioethanol, which can be blended with, or replace petrol. In the European Union (EU), an indicative target of 5.75% (by energy content), set in the biofuels Directive (2003/30/EC), is stimulating the increased use of biofuels, in particular biodiesel, for EU road transport. There are also discussions on increasing the proportion beyond 5.75% to say 10%-20% (Source: EC 8/9 March Presidency conclusions). 

Many countries are responding to this Directive by introducing tax incentives and obligations on manufacturers to produce biofuel and add it to conventional transport fuels. Outside of the EU, many countries are taking similar policy actions. There is also the possibility of using one of the so-called ‘flexible mechanisms’ of the Kyoto Protocol, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), to stimulate the development of biofuel technology in developing countries. 

This Report was commissioned by the UIC from the UK Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), who were assisted by AEA Energy & Environment. The purpose of the report is to build on the previous paper (ERRI, 1997) from the UIC on biodiesel and indicate what has changed in this time. In particular:

  • Is there sufficient supply of biodiesel for the EU railways?
  • How are the issues associated with the higher costs of the fuel being addressed? 
  • Are biofuels technically feasible?
  • Are biofuels really sustainable?   

Railways already have an environmental advantage over other forms of air and road transport as seen in various reports (Source: ATOC Baseline Statement April 2007). This is diminishing, due to rapid progress in the other transport sectors. biofuels offer an opportunity to help rail to maintain or improve its green credentials and hence promote modal shift, as an environment conscious society may choose rail over other modes of transport. This should increase rail usage and indeed, transport market share. biofuels can also provide an alternative source of t


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Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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