EEA report calls for more efficient biomass production, use

By Erin Voegele | July 08, 2013

The European Environment Agency has published a report that says bioenergy production should comply with E.U. objectives to use resources more efficiently. The report, titled “E.U. bioenergy from a resource efficiency perspective,” stresses that the amount of land and resources needed to produce each unit of bioenergy should be reduced, while actions are also taken to avoid harm to the environment. 

According to the EEA, bioenergy accounted for approximately 7.5 percent of the energy used in the E.U. during 2010. The use of bioenergy is expected to increase to 10 percent by 2020, when it will account for approximately half of the projected renewable energy output. 

Within the report, the EEA develops three different scenarios, which it calls “storylines.” Each scenario has varying technological, economic and policy assumptions. The first storyline—market first—assumes bioenergy development and the attainment of European renewable energy targets is left primarily to market forces. Under the scenario, no new policy interventions are made to mitigate environmental impacts or indirect land use change (ILUC) effects. Under the second storyline—climate focus—policy is introduced to place constraints on the areas that can be used for feedstock production, exclude biofuel pathways that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emission by less than 50 percent, and introduce floor prices for biomass feedstock. The third scenario—resource efficiency—includes all conditions of the climate focus storyline, but also applies the 50 percent GHG reduction threshold to all bioenergy pathways and includes policy measures to prevent negative impact son natural resources and biodiversity, and to enhance the efficiency of bioenergy production. 

According to the EEA, its analysis finds that accounting for ILUC significantly alters the bioenergy mix, particularly by excluding most first-generation biofuels. The analysis also shows that overall bioenergy production potential is shown to be similar under all three storylines. However, the climate focus and resource efficiency scenarios cause a shift away from first generation biofuels and towards perennial crops for bioenergy production. The scenarios also result in relatively more biobased heat, electricity and biogas production. 

The analysis advocates for a broader mix of bioenergy crops, including a larger share of perennial crops. The EEA points out that perennial crops, such as energy grasses and short-rotation willow, lead to greater environmental benefit. The EEA’s report also stresses that using organic waste and agricultural or forestry residues to produce energy increases resource efficiency and results in very high GHG savings. 

A full copy of the report is available on the EEA website