Esso, Chevron and Murco have been criticised for failing to meet government targets for biofuel sustainability. According to the Renewable Fuels

Agency (RFA), five oil companies have so far failed to supply any fuel meeting sustainability standards. with Prax Petroleum and Topaz also failing to report any data at all on the origins of their biofuels.

The RFA stated: “This suggests that it is unlikely that these companies will meet the government target for the year that 30% of biofuel should meet environmental sustainability standards.”

In addition, the RFA said nine companies were performing “well below” their targets, including BP, which managed to report just 4% of its biofuels as meeting the standards.

The report stated that 670 million litres of biofuel were supplied to the UK transport market in the first six months of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) coming into force, comprising of 84% biodiesel and 16% bioethanol. And for the six month period from April to October 2008, just 20% of that biofuel met a recognised environmental standard. The government has set a voluntary target for 30% of biofuels to meet environmental standards this year, rising to 50% in 2009/10 and 80% in 2010/11.

Companies praised for performing well on biofuels included Greenergy, which supplies fuels to Tesco forecourts – the oil company met all government targets for sustainability including the ‘gold standard’ of meeting a social sustainability standard. ConocoPhillips and Mabanaft were also meeting targets.

RFA CEO Nick Goodall said: “We believe that biofuels should be sustainable. The first half year’s experience of the RTFO in the UK, and the good performance of several companies, are demonstrating that the biofuels industry can meet sustainability standards. The challenge for us now is to raise performance across the board.”

According to the RFA, this quarter has seen the first delivery of biofuel from Brazilian sugar cane meeting the RTFO social sustainability meta-standard – by Greenergy. It described this as the ‘gold standard’ for biofuels produced with respect for workers’ rights and land rights. It added that there was no existing certification program for Brazilian sugar cane that meets the RTFO standard, so it was encouraging that it could report a supplier carrying out independent audits of production.

Aaron Berry, the RFA’s head of carbon and sustainability, said: “We are pleased to see that Greenergy has started implementing the meta-standard, and that the RTFO is encouraging suppliers to adopt best practise on sustainability. The RTFO is, after all, intended to create a market for biofuels meeting this meta-standard.”

Commenting on the report, an Esso spokesman said: "Esso is complying with the requirements laid down by the UK Government via the RTFO to ensure that a given percentage by volume of all fuels sold at UK forecourts is biofuel (2.5% in 2008/09).

"Whilst we welcome the publication of data by the RFA, we wish to point out that the Government company performance targets contained in their report are for a 12 month period. It is too early to judge our ability to achieve the Government’s targets (for the full 12 month period) based upon data relating to performance over a six month period.

"Esso is working hard with its supply chains to enhance the quality and quantity of information available about biofuel sources; a key objective of this work is to identify which of the available feed stocks are derived from sustainable sources. The RTFO places a requirement on the purchaser of biofuel to verify the data provided by the biofuel supplier or producer.

"As a result of this requirement Esso is taking a conservative approach and is making extensive efforts to verify the data accompanying biofuel purchased before submitting this to the RFA for publication

"Esso supports the development of internationally recognised and robust standards for the sourcing of bio-components for road transport fuels."

A spokesman for Chevron Ltd said: "Chevron is committed to diversifying its sources of energy in an environmentally sound way in order to meet the world’s growing demand. Developing the infrastructure to produce and distribute new forms of energy such as biofuels on a sustainable large scale is a significant challenge. In this new market with new supply patterns, Chevron decided to exercise caution in its biofuel reporting and only declare sustainability data that could be verified. The company has appointed an independent third party to investigate and validate the sustainability of all elements of the Chevron biofuel supply chain and expects to be able to report in more detail before the end of the 12 month initial phase of the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation."

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have called for a "more ambitious" RTFO. David Cameron proposed more support for second generation biofuels as part of the party’s plan for a low carbon economy.