Biomass is derived from organic material such as trees, plants, and agricultural and urban waste. It can be used for heating, electricity generation, and transport fuels. Increasing the use of biomass in the EU can help diversify Europe's energy supply, create growth and jobs, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. In 2012, biomass and waste accounted for about two-thirds of all renewable energy consumption in the EU.
For biomass to be effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it must be produced in a sustainable way. Biomass production involves a chain of activities ranging from the growing of feedstock to final energy conversion. Each step along the way can pose different sustainability challenges that need to be managed.
In 2014, the European Commission published a report on the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass for heat and electricity generation. The report includes information on current and planned EU actions to maximise the benefits of using biomass while avoiding negative impacts on the environment.
The European Commission has issued non-binding recommendations on sustainability criteria for biomass. These recommendations are meant to apply to energy installations of at least 1MW thermal heat or electrical power. They:
- forbid the use of biomass from land converted from forest, and other high carbon stock areas, as well as highly biodiverse areas
- ensure that biofuels emit at least 35% less greenhouse gases over their lifecycle (cultivation, processing, transport, etc.) when compared to fossil fuels. For new installations this amount rises to 50% in 2017 and 60% in 2018
- favour national biofuels support schemes for highly efficient installations
- encourage the monitoring of the origin of all biomass consumed in the EU to ensure their sustainability
One of the biggest difficulties facing biomass producers is getting the proper permits to build their installations. Problems include:
- too many process steps and permits issued by separate authorities
- permits are subject to a wide range of legislative acts
- a lack of clear timetables
- a lack of local knowledge and capacity to analyse complex bioenergy permit applications
- a lack of clear procedures to obtain energy grid access
- local resistance to bioenergy projects
To improve the situation, the EU released a series of practical recommendations aimed at helping project developers, NGOs, and permitting authorities.