Sustainable biomass supply in EU


Over 50% of the targets for renewable energy use in 2020 as specified in the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs) will need to come from bioenergy. As a consequence the demand for biomass will increase strongly over the coming years. In the Biomass Futures project it is estimated that the EU biomass potential ranges between 375 to 429 MtOE depending on the sustainability criteria applied. This would cover at least 2.5 times the amount that is needed to cover the total bioenergy demand as set in the NREAPs for 2020. In a demand analysis with the RESolve model it is predicted that only a part (37%) of domestic biomass supply will actually be exploited by 2020 while the rest of the demand will be met by imported biomass. The question now arises as to whether there is a mismatch between the bioenergy supply and the final demand? What types of biomass sources are expected to be under exploited and is there a need to stimulate their use in order to diminish our import needs and increase the sustainability of our future renewable energy production?

According to analyses of the Member States’ National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs), biomass will make up 19% of total renewable electricity in the year 2020, 78% of total renewable heating and cooling in 2020 and 89% of total renewable energy in transport. All together, bioenergy is expected to make up over 50 per cent of total renewable energy use. The Biomass Futures project assesses the role of bioenergy in meeting Europe’s renewable energy targets as spelled out in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). It does so by conducting sectoral market analyses, estimating the availability of biomass for energy and by modelling the demand and supply of bioenergy within the energy system.

Biomass Futures investigates Europe’s future biomass supply under various scenarios

In this study the biomass supply estimates are based on two alternative packages of sustainability criteria:

1)    The Present RED criteria for biofuel feedstocks only;

2)    2) Stricter sustainability criteria applied to all bioenergy feedstock, including solid and gaseous bioenergy.



The biomass potential will increase and change in composition towards 2020

The present EU biomass supply is estimated at 314 MtOE. This includes the biofuel and perennial crops that are actually converted to energy at present, whereas for the other categories the amounts should be seen as real potentials which are largely not converted to bioenergy at present. According to estimations towards 2020 the potential biomass sources will largely remain in the same size ranges with the exception of the supply of bioenergy crops which will clearly increase. Waste and forestry residues will clearly increase towards the future as will landscape care wood.

Round wood production and the additionally harvestable round wood potential will practically remain the same towards 2020, but their use for bioenergy purposes might increase.

By comparing the reference and the sustainability scenarios of 2020, it is clear that stricter sustainability criteria lead to a reduction in domestic supply by 13%.  This reduction is especially caused by smaller potentials for energy crops and no biofuel cropping being possible under the sustainability criteria of 70% mitigation requirement with iLUC compensation.

The analysis shows that a 70% mitigation as compared to the fossil alternative is still feasible in most EU biofuel crops (e.g. cereals, rape, sunflower, sugarbeet, maize) if only direct emissions need to be compensated. However, since these crops need good agricultural lands they compete with food and feed crops. Exchange of the latter with biofuel crops will lead to a displacement effect, e.g. the food and feed crops will be grown elsewhere causing land use changes elsewhere. The emissions caused by the displacement effect also need to be compensated in the sustainability scenario. Because of this the amount of GHG emissions to be compensated often increase with an extra 50% to 100% of the direct emissions and this compensation is no longer possible. Also for dedicated cropping with perennials it becomes more difficult in the sustainability scenario to reach the mitigation target. The same principle applies to these crops where displacement effects are caused iLUC emissions also need to be compensated too. This however does not happen as often as with rotational biofuel crops as these need better soils and are therefore competing with food and feed crops more often. Perennial crops can be grown on lower quality soils which could be fallow lands or lands released from agriculture. ILUC effects on these lands are therefore not applicable, reaching the mitigation targets then becomes more feasible.

In addition there will also be a significantly smaller supply from the additional harvestable round wood and primary forestry residues categories in the sustainability scenario, because of stricter exploitation criteria.

Supply of different biomass sources in EU (MtOE) in the current situation and in 2020 “reference” and “sustainability” scenarios.

Stricter sustainability criteria also lead to a modest shift in the cost-supply relation as in the reference scenario there is 300 MtOE biomass available at a price of maximum 250 €/tOE while  in the sustainability scenario this does not even reach 270 MtOE. At 500 €/Toe the reference reaches 395 MtOE and in the sustainability scenario only 353 MtOE.


Cost-supply relation of biomass categories (MtOE) in “reference” and “sustainability” scenarios.

Biomass demand much smaller than EU potential but biomass imports remain

The level of possible exploitation of the above mentioned biomass supply has been assessed by the RESolve model.

Initial results indicate that about 155 MtOE of domestic biomass will be utilized, which is only 37% of the domestic supply,.

Although this is significantly larger than the amount imported from outside the EU, which is estimated at 46 MtOE, it is clear that in theory there is room to utilize more biomass than indicated in the NREAPs.

Agricultural and forestry residues could fulfill more than half of the demand, followed by wastes and perennial crops. However the total supply of the rotational crop will not be sufficient to fulfill the policy (driven nde) demand in the transport sector.  Therefore 3 MtOE of biofuels and 23 MtOE of feedstocks for biofuel production will be imported. The preliminary modeling results clearly indicate that most of the cheap domestic feedstock will be utilized (i.e. wastes, landscape care wood, secondary and tertiary forestry residues) to meet the demand and the gap is likely to be filled by imported biomass feedstocks and biofuels.

Forestry residues and certainly dedicated cropping with perennials will clearly remain underutilized domestic sources[i] because at the domestic prices they can hardly compete with imported resources.

In absence of domestic biofuel feedstock supply, used fats and oils meet 6-7% of the biodiesel demand, the largest part of the biofuel feedstock and biofuels will need to come from both domestic and imported resources that comply with the stricter sustainability criteria. One can expect that under stricter sustainability criteria the demand for domestic residues, waste categories and dedicated perennial crops particularly for conversion into (2nd generation) biofuels may increase. This however will only happen if in this scenario the sustainability criteria are accompanied by stimulation measures that stimulate the technological development and implementation of technologies to produce the ligno-cellulosic based fuels. This will create a larger demand for ligno-cellulosic materials  which is likely to lead to larger utilisation of domestic wastes and cropped biomass.

As in the reference also in the sustainability scenario it is not likely that the use of roundwood and additionally harvestable round wood for bioenergy production will increase strongly. Prices for these domestic resources ranging from 375-590 €/Toe (=9-14 Euro/GJ) are expected to remain too high as compared to imported feedstocks such as wood pellets.

While first generation fuels need to be imported because of sustainability and land constraints, forest and waste biomass remain under-utilized.

Stricter sustainability criteria will have strong implications for the demand supply dynamics. The sustainability scenario on biomass supply indicates that the domestic production of rotational crops will totally disappear in 2020 as iLUC compensation is not feasible. This is expected to lead to increased use of biofuels from waste from domestic and imported sources for 2nd generation based biofuels and of 1st generation biofuels from crops grown on degraded lands and on arable lands in very efficient systems (most probably sugarcane from Brasil). The biofuel targets can only be met in the sustainability scenario if this is accompanied by strong technology developments making ligno-cellulosic material from domestic sources more likely to be exploited for biofuel production. How this will influence the final level of imports cannot be presented yet.

As far as heat and electricity targets are concerned, preliminary conclusions point out that there is plenty of domestic biomass available for meeting them, however these are only partly available at competitive price ranges (165€/tOEJ- 350€/tOE). This situation is therefore likely to further drive the increase of imports. Domestic feedstocks can therefore be utilized to the extent they can compete with the imported biomass unless some policy intervention prioritizes the domestic use of resources.

Measures to mobilise the domestic potential may be considered which could include creation of more efficient logistics, or integration of residues into energy supply for onsite (forest & agro- industry) process activities. The latter may be stimulated through policy interventions like increased support towards targeted research and technology innovation in improving logistics (scale, feedstock typology & regional infrastructure issues),  support for change of boilers in the domestic, services & industry sectors, tax exemptions.

This post is based on an article by Berien Elbersen, Alterra Wageningen UR,  et al.  published in BE-Sustainable magazine in April 2012 and presents the results of the project Biomass Futures co-funded by the Intelligent Energy for Europe program


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