Ambitious targets, stable policy and continued R&I investments are the keys for the sector to deploy its full potential
The Plenary Meeting of the European Technology and Innovation Platform Bioenergy, held on 11-12 April in Brussels, attracted over 150 registered bioenergy stakeholders. The event was an opportunity for stakeholders to learn about the latest trends in advanced biofuels and bioenergy, covering the whole spectrum of technology readiness levels: from early stage research activities in emerging technologies for power and fuels, to large industrial demonstrations, and new commercial initiatives carried out by lead companies in advanced biofuels. The meeting showed the effectiveness of ETIP Bioenergy as an independent platform in combining the expertise of stakeholders from both research organizations and industries in a transparent way, by providing insights on the sector, and essential information for the elaboration of future policies for the development and market uptake of bioenergy. Some common points recurred throughout several of the presentations given by different speakers.
The Contribution of Bioenergy to a Low-Carbon Scenario
The first one is the role of bioenergy in the future energy and climate scenario, which can be summarized in the position of the International Energy Agency, represented by Adam Brown: Sustainable bioenergy: an essential element in the portfolio of measures for a low-carbon scenario. Advanced biofuels are the only long-term sustainable solution available for the decarbonization of transport sectors such as long-haul transports and aviation. Advanced biofuels and bioenergy intermediates play an essential role not only for energy use, but also and increasingly for energy storage. Another theme recurring in the words of many speakers was the issue of the availability of sustainable biomass, necessary to cover the demand of the biomass industry to achieve its long-term impact. A study (Research and Innovation perspective of the mid- and long-term Potential for Advanced Biofuels in Europe), published recently by DG RTD indicates a sustainable biomass potential of around 500 million tons by 2020. With appropriate Research and Innovation measures, an increase of up to 120% of this amount could be achieved by 2050.
The Socio-economic Benefits
Developing the advanced biofuel sector to achieve our climate goals will require significant investments in additional biofuel capacity, however, the study indicates that this can be achieved without impacting negatively on the EU’s GDP. On the contrary, some scenarios indicate the sector might be worth 365 bn € of turnover by 2050, and might generate up to 108,000 new permanent jobs. To achieve this, it will be necessary to improve the mobilization of feedstock, while reducing its cost, and to make production facilities more flexible to use different feedstock. At the same time, improving the efficiency of conversion processes will be also fundamental. This proves that even though advanced biofuels are already a commercial reality, research and innovation are still key to sustain the development of the sector. I want to invite all stakeholders to be active in Horizon 2020 proposals, especially in Innovation Actions, so to make this sector more powerful, Maria Georgiadou EC DG RTD said, presenting an overview of the Commission’s policies for research and innovation.
State of the Art of Technological Development and Sustainability
An extensive and up-to-date overview on the status of implementation of the main biomass conversion technologies, was illustrated by Lars Waldheim. The industrial implementation of R&D breakthroughs requires patience and the economics of bridging the “development gap” from pilot plants to operational 1st-of-a-kind industrial plants is a main bottleneck for biofuels, and it is particularly challenging for single-product start-ups, he said. For this reason, support policies should be designed having this in mind, to be effective in reaching the desired impact, he concluded.
A dedicated session analysed the current debate on the sustainability issues of biomass and biofuels and the issue of indirect land use change of biofuels. The ILUC factor is a proxy for regulation, a shortcut for a long debate, said Uwe Fritsche, IINAS. Although it is conceptually impossible to measure it, there is now a growing body of science-based evidence that shows that there are a lot of opportunities to reduce ILUC of biomass crops. Even though it is important to continue the debate on ILUC, there are safe options that we can adopt already today. Therefore we should move ahead immediately with these options, which could provide an “agreeable corridor” of 70 – 90 EJ of sustainable bioenergy globally by 2030.
There is a huge potential to produce sustainable biofuels, we need to get over the complicated policy barrier and get there, said Patrik Klintbom, RISE Sweden, recently elected as the new chair of ETIP Bioenergy; lack of policies should not stop us from achieving our goals, he added.
Industry Perspectives and Policy Needs
Some of the leading companies presented the investment climate for advanced biofuels and bioenergy. Ten years ago we were a paper company, with the decline of the paper usage we tried to reinvent ourselves and we started developing advanced biofuels, said Marko Janhunen, UPM biofuels, presenting the company’s plans for wood-based biorefineries. There are tremendous opportunities for advanced biofuels, but we need stable regulatory framework and a mandate for advanced biofuels. In the past seven years we have never known what will be happening the next year. Now we need to know what is going to happen in the near future, he concluded. Paolo Corvo, Clariant, presented the state of development and the company’s investments in the Sunliquid technology for 2nd generation Ethanol. We have only 25% of the carbon budget available to meet the 2°C target, the technology is there, but a supportive legislation with a clear mandate from 2021 is necessary, there is a high market demand for advanced biofuels globally. It is now time to invest and to bring additional plants to the market. We recently announced our two projects, the first is a license sold in Slovakia and the second is our own investment in a plant in Romania.
If we want to reach the 2050 climate goals we need to increase drastically our efforts on biofuels, said Hermann Pengg, Audi.
Electrification is good but not enough because we need to address the whole transport sector, so we need also biofuels. All solutions are needed, and we need to get to deployment quickly, said Björn Fredriksson Möller, EON Sweden. The good news is that there are many sustainable alternatives existing already today, like biomethane for transports. It’s not a competition “either or” between different technologies, we actually do need them all, said Antti Arasto, VTT Finland, vice chair ETIP bioenergy.
Currently, ETIP Bioenergy is delivering an important contribution to the implementation of the Strategic Energy Technology Plan Action 8: renewable fuels and bioenergy. An implementation plan, expected by the first half of 2018, will contain concrete R&I activities, and will propose relevant funding opportunities for their realization. Timo Ritonummi, Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment Finland, chair of the Temporary Working Group for the Implementation Plan, presented the current state of the ongoing work.
The slides of the event together with a multimedia gallery are available here.
About ETIP Bioenergy
The European Technology and Innovation Platform Bioenergy is an industry-led stakeholder platform that brings together relevant actors from academia, industry, and civil society, engaged in the development of sustainable bioenergy and competitive biofuel technologies. One major task of ETIP Bioenergy is to address the technical and economic barriers to the further development and accelerated commercial deployment of bioenergy technologies for the widespread sustainable exploitation of biomass resources. As an industry-led stakeholder forum, the ETIP Bioenergy has the role to represent the unbiased, united, and consolidated view of the biofuels and bioenergy industry in Europe.
More information: http://www.etipbioenergy.eu