Agriculture and rural development

Biomass potential

Biomass potential

Biomass potential

How much energy will come from biomass? This will depend on many factors: market forces, economic incentives and speed of technological change in the different renewable energy subsectors will inter alia determine the energy mix necessary to achieve the 20 % target in 2020. The projected contribution of biomass thus hinges heavily on assumptions.

The Renewable Energy Directive gives a definition of 'biomass':

'the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues from biological origin from agriculture (including vegetal and animal substances), forestry and related industries including fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste'.

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) estimated in a 2006 study EU primary energy requirement at 1.8 billion tonnes oil equivalent (toe) in 2020 and projected biomass to be able to contribute with 13 % or 236 million toe, compared to 69 million toe actually provided in 2003.

An almost identical projection is reproduced in the Commission's Impact Assessment of the Renewable Energy Roadmap where the higher scenario results in a biomass potential of 230 million toe, the lower being 195 million toe.

Based on current knowledge it is thus reasonable to assume that biomass could account for two-thirds of the renewable energy target in 2020. For this to become reality biomass use will roughly have to double.

Both of the above two studies allow discerning a similar two-stage pattern:

  1. In the short to medium run, available but partly unused biomass potential from waste, forestry, and residues can readily be tapped into.
  2. In the longer run, they agree that most of the genuine growth in biomass potential will have to come from "agriculture" (EEA study) or "agricultural products" (Impact Assessment of the Renewable Energy Roadmap).

The Biomass Energy Europe (BEE) project compares more than 70 biomass potential assessments. It concludes that the estimates differ to a large extent due to different definitions of potential and due to different methods applied. Nevertheless most of the studies agree that

  • biomass potentials from forestry and waste are relatively stable over time;
  • the big uncertainty comes with the question how much biomass for energy EU agriculture would be able to supply.

Agriculture seems thus to be key for a genuine, large expansion of biomass supply. 

Wood accounts for approximately 80 % of the biomass used for renewable energy. There is a clear potential to intensify forest utilisation for energy in the EU: Only 60–70 % of the annual increment of EU forests is harvested. At present, about 42 % of the harvest is eventually used for energy, residues from higher value processing have a significant share. Significant expansion potentials locate in smaller private forest holdings and are related to forest residues and complementary fellings, such as first thinnings.

Recent projections for 2030 quantify the sustainably realisable potential of wood for energy from EU forests as high as 675 million cubic meters (146 million toe) per year, provided intensive wood mobilisation efforts are applied.