Biobased economy and resource efficient agriculture: a sinergy against climate change

Prof. André P.C. Faaij Academic Director of Energy Academy Europe and Distinguished Professor of Energy System Analysis at Groningen University

Prof. André P.C. Faaij is Conference General Chairman of the European Biomass Conference and Exhibition 2016. In his message to the conference he explains why we definitely need to deploy sustainable biomass to achieve our climate targets and how this can create synergies to develop a more resource efficient production of food. 

The deployment of biomass for production of power, heat, transportation fuels, renewable feedstock and materials has become one of the most complex, promising, politicized and debated options we have at our disposal to combat climate change and to create a sustainable energy system.

State-of-the-art analysis strongly confirms the necessity of large scale  biomass deployment to meet the maximum GMT change of 2 – 1,5°C. The Paris Agreement fortunately led to global consensus for deep GHG emission reduction. The IPCC made clear in its 5th assessment report, that all key mitigation options (increased energy efficiency across the board, all renewables, carbon capture and storage) need to deliver in the coming 4 decades on a vast scale, and that  250-300 EJ (a quarter to a third of the world’s energy supply in the second half of this century) may need to come from biomass to make that possible. With those targets, the need for negative emissions (combined deployment of biomass with carbon capture and storage) is deemed necessary on a large scale.

Furthermore, biomass is the only tangible alternative for delivering carbon neutral carbon for liquid transport fuels for aviation, shipping, heavy road transport and shares of demand for passenger vehicles. Overall, sustainable biomass may deliver 30-40% of total global GHG mitigation efforts with the combined displacement of fossil fuels, CO2 removal and storage and increased carbon storage via vegetation, reforestation and restoration of marginal and degraded lands.

Fossil energy imports (mainly oil and gas) of the EU  amount to some 400 billion Euro/yr, oil & gas import dependency has risen to over 90% and will increase even further in the coming decades. Biomass offers the opportunity to cover a quarter of the EU’s energy use by 2050 within its borders, ensuring that a large part of the energy import bill is transformed to further investment and growth in industry, agriculture and forestry, implying sustainable jobs in particular in rural regions. Similar argumentation holds for many other world regions as well.

Combining the efforts for the biobased economy and a resource efficient production of food

A sustainable biobased economy first and foremost depends on availability and supply of sustainable and affordable biomass resources. Much time and effort was spent since 2008 (when food prices spiked) to discuss the possible risks and drawbacks of large scale biomass use. Today, we clearly understand that it is paramount that unsustainable displacement of food and loss of forest cover can be well avoided by means of higher resource efficiency (land, water, nutrients) in agriculture, livestock management and by restoration of degraded lands. This is possible on the scale required and can provide major synergies between sustainable biobased economy and sustainable, resource efficient food production. Achieving this synergy is one of the most important objectives for the coming decade, via large scale demonstrations, new integral policy and sustainability frameworks, that not only cover biomass value chains, but also the larger land and natural resource base and rural economy of the regions where the biomass is sourced.

Modernization and improved efficiency of conventional agriculture (and livestock) is essential in itself. Doing so changes the perspective on bioenergy from hedging problems to achieving synergies with better agriculture. Certification of biomass value chains sets the pace for conventional agriculture in that sense, which is a very positive development. The required land use strategies can also provide an answer to adapt to the impacts of climate change, by means of prevention of soil erosion, improving water retention functions, abating salinity problems, and more resilient agriculture. In total, this provides a ‘’heavy’ agenda; the combined effort of (cross-disciplinary) science, energy and chemical industries, civil society, policy and -key for the biobased economy, the agriculture and forestry sectors, is needed. Building this sustainable biobased economy takes decades and steady, gradual development of (biomass) markets, infrastructure and technologies. Such a long term perspective is essential to steadily push down costs and to walk down the learning curves that are very much there to exploit.

Virtuous examples of biobased economy are already taking place in many countries

The Netherlands will host the 24th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition. It is a country that counts heavily on biobased options to make the future energy and material supply sustainable. This will mean large scale sustainable biomass imports, a biobased chemical industry, large scale advanced biofuel production for road transport, aviation and shipping, green gas to replace natural gas and biorefineries and bioenergy plants equipped with CCS. The ambition is visible in a wide range of R&D efforts, demonstrations and commercial biomass projects in all relevant sectors. We hope this will be a fruitful environment for the 24th EUBCE, also to foster to crucially important partnerships and collaboration. The Netherlands can offer a lot. But the Netherlands also has a lot to learn from the successes and the achievements seen in other markets and countries. There are notable examples, such as the Scandinavian and Austrian Biobased economy programs, Brazil, the US, in Asia…Let’s learn from successes and progress, reported at the conference, let’s push innovation, let’s collaborate between sectors and stakeholders, let’s push for the required policy frameworks, let’s focus on solving problems and accelerating implementation. And do the research to make that possible.

The EUBCE 2016 takes place at an important moment in time: the Climate Treaty from Paris leaves no room for further delays. We need to deliver. Let’s keep that in mind while we all enjoy an excellent and inspiring event that brings the best and brightest of the biobased community together.

Written by Prof. André Faaij,  Academic Director of the Energy Academy Europe, Distinguished Professor Energy System Analysis – University of Groningen and 2015 winner of the Linneborn Prize.


The European Biomass Conference and Exhibition (EUBCE) has taken place at different venues in Europe since 1980. As one of the world’s leading R&D conference, combined with an international exhibition, It serves as the international meeting point for biomass experts from research, development and from industry, with presentations dedicated to biomass, addressing the latest technologies, the policy framework, and the medium and long-term strategies and potentials. The EUBCE is the interface between science, industry and policy makers.

The EUBCE is supported by European and international organizations such as the European Commission, UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Natural Sciences Sector, WCRE – the World Council for Renewable Energy, EUBIA – the European Biomass Industry Association and other organisations. The Technical Programme is coordinated by the European Commission, Joint Research Centre.


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