EUBREN - The European Biomass Research Network

Researching for bioeconomy


The Crucial Role of  Biomass Residues in Europe: 269 MTOE of green Energy for a sustainable Biobased Economy

There is a general consensus in Europe that a biobased sector development is strongly related to the sustainability challenge. The environmental sustainability of biomass feedstock has a huge impact on the whole value chain from land to bio-products; at the same time, European and global biomass resources represent the raw material for a wide range of industry sectors, all of them expecting an impressing market growth with a related increase of biomass demand within 2050. Biomass is the only existing renewable carbon source able to replace fossil fuels in the production of 73,000 market products, however, most of biomass consumed worldwide is related to three main sectors: paper, construction and food. These sectors have the priority in the consumption of high quality biomass, while other industry sectors, in competition with fossil fuels for the production of fuels, energy and materials, represent the emerging promising markets looking for the road for the take off.

  1. Primary Sectors: Paper, construction, food
  2. Emerging Sectors: Heat, power, plastic, chemicals and biofuels industries

Due their strong position as global traditional markets, Primary Sectors have the priority in the exploitation of resources and use of land. The emerging sectors are still under development and aim to grow rapidly in the next decades. Their development and success depends on the efficient and sustainable exploitation of remaining biomass feedstock. On the basis of this consideration, European Commission, together with Member states support, is driving the change to move for an actual sustainable development of emerging biobased industry sectors.

One of the most relevant sustainability criteria affecting emerging biobased sectors development is the efficient exploitation of resources. iLUC (Indirect Land Use Change) concern has triggered a general re-evaluation of the sustainability of the biobased sectors. Rapid growth of EU biofuels sector has recently slowed due to the sustainability concerns. The transportation biofuels industries moved from 1st generation to 2nd generation biofuels, facing all the issues related to more expensive processes needed to extract sugars from solid low quality biomass.  The same direction has been taken by Sustainable Biomass Partnership, an industry-led initiative formed in 2013 by major European utilities that use biomass in large thermal power plants. The general trend for emerging biobased sectors seems to be orienting towards the utilization of low quality feedstocks, wastes, organic by-products from agricultural activities, with a small contribution of Short Rotation Plantations and microalgae - seaweed.

A very rough estimation brings to the average value of 11,3 EJ of residues are available in Europe, equal to about 269 Million TOE. The development trend of Emerging biobased sectors reports a total biomass demand for 2050 of about 290-320 MTOE. The challenge is now how deal with this huge amount of residues, developing an efficient strategy to valorise European and global biomass residues to meet the expected growing demand of biobased industry for 2050.

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The European Council set the targets for GHG emissions reduction in 2030

The 2030 goal has been one of the hottest topic of the year 2014. With 6 years missing to the well known 2020, investors, companies and national governments needed to set a pathway for the next 15 years. 

The European Council collected informaiton, experiences and controversies emerged by the 28 Members States and, late on 23rd thursday night, agreed on the 2030 climate and energy policy framework. 

GHG emission reduction, energy efficiency, renewable energy, interconnections and ETS, these the most relevant topics discussed in Paris. After some remarks from eastern European countries, but also France and UK, the minimum targets agreed are:

  • 40% emissions reduction from 1990 levels by 2030 (nationally binding)
  • 27% energy efficiency increase by 2030 (dinsing at EU level)
  • 27% renewable energy share by 2030 (binding on EU level)
  • 15% increased energy interconnection between member states by 2030 (binding on EU level

The above targets resulted from ther EU Council meeting are still general proposals to be discussed further along the next years. In particular, the calendar expected  for 2015 is the following:

  • 1-12 December: COP20 Lima, Meeting of parties of the Kyoto Protocol
  • Q1 2015: The commission will be asked to bring forward the legislation in order to achieve the targets indicated by the European Council. There is not at the moment a clear timeline
  • 19-20 March 2015: European Council meeting: the Commission will present a Communicaiton on progress towards enhanced interconnectors and PCIs
  • 30 November - 11 December 2015: COP21 Paris

The Member States secured to come forward wit ambitious targets and policies to be presented at the UNFCCC conference in Paris 2015. 

The Commission published the state of play of sustainability

  • The Communication aims at analyzing the sustainability of EU biomass
  • More action is needed by Member States in order to achieve more coordination
  • The document foresees a bright future for the biomass industry in the EU

The Commission published during August a new report on the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass used for electricity, heating and cooling. The document addresses the concerns expressed by the Parliament and key actors regarding the sustainability of bioenergy, concerns which have already been taken into account in several EC Communications. 

The report reviews national biomass sustainability criteria in order to check to what extent they are in line with the recommendations contained in the 2010 Biomass Report. It finds that while half of the Member States have adopted regulations promoting higher eficiency of bionergy production, only Belgium, Italy and UK have adopted greenhouse gas (GHG) saving criteria for biomass. Regarding sustainability criteria (sustainable forest management, criteria for agricultural biomass, etc.) Belgium, Hungary, UK and by the end of the year the Netherlands have adopted some type of standards. These differences on national sustainability schemes may create some market distortions, but the existing EU tools on technical standards should be enough in order to manage any future problem. Moreover the document examines a series of sustainability risks such as unsustainable feedstock production, energy efficiency or air quality impacts. 

The Communication can be consulted in the following link: