Agriculture as supplier of biomass for energy
EU agriculture currently provides bioenergy in mainly three key forms: biogas and feedstocks for making biodiesel and bioethanol.
The graph illustrates the dynamic growth of production in the EU and the respective importance of the three main categories. Short rotation coppice also provides solid biomass.
Production of bioethanol, biogas and biodiesel in the EU, million tonnes oil equivalent
(Source: EC DG Agriculture and Rural Development, based on eBio, EBB, EurObserv'ER)
It has to be noted, however, that biodiesel is partly produced from imported vegetable oils and oilseeds, whereas bioethanol is produced mainly from EU cereals and sugarbeet. In the biogas category shown in the above graph, production in small municipal plants and on-farm biogas from non-agricultural biowaste are also included.
In addition, agriculture provides by-products and residues (such as straw) used for bioheat and biopower, on which however data are not available.
Furthermore, dedicated energy crops like perennial grasses and short rotation forestry and coppice provide non-food cellulosic and ligno-cellulosic biomass. Current plantations are still very limited, with the exceptions of Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, and to some extent Italy. For several reasons, cultivation of dedicated energy crops is expected to expand.
Biomass grasses, short rotation forestry and short rotation coppice have high energy yields – about three times those of traditional energy crops. They imply lower environmental pressure and can be irrigated with waste water.
Pathways related to heat and electricity are gaining importance and a gradual shift from first-generation (based on food crops) to second-generation (non-food based) biofuels is expected. These developments should increasingly favour perennial grasses, short rotation forestry and short rotation coppice over traditional ls crops. The European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) estimated the EU area at below 0.1 million ha in 2007 and expects about 2 million ha in 2020.