The key advantages of biomass
What are the key advantages of biomass technology?
- Biomass fuels are sustainable. The green plants from which biomass fuels are derived fix carbon dioxide as they grow, so their use does not add to the levels of atmospheric carbon. In addition, using refuse as a fuel avoids polluting landfill disposal.
- Biomass can pay a dual role in greenhouse gas mitigation, both as an energy source to substitute fossil fuels (bioenergy) and as a carbon sink.
What is the future potential of biomass technology?
- Biomass already contributes 5% of the European Union's (EU) energy supply, and 65% of the total renewable energy production; predominately for heat and power applications.
- In the long term, the contribution of biomass in the EU energy supply may increase to 20%, depending on the policies adopted by the EU in relation to agriculture, sustainability, a secure energy supply and Kyoto obligations
- Renewable Energy Systems (RES) mainly produce electricity. However, only 20% of current EU energy supply is in the form of electricity - the remaining 80% is in the form of fuels for heating and transport. Biomass is the only RES which produces solid or liquid fuels which could be used as, or transformed into, fuels for heating (in buildings and industry) and transport. In addition, biofuels are one of the few options for a net CO2-free system for transport applications.
What does it offer the EU specifically?
- Agricultural and forest residues, as well as purpose-grown energy crops, are among the major EU energy resources.
- Use of home-grown resources can significantly reduce the EU's need to import oil and other fossil fuels and at the same time increase a secure energy supply.
- The use of biomass contributes to reducing emissions that contribute to climate change, in accordance with the Kyoto Agreement.
- Fuels derived from biomass contain less sulphur. Properly designed systems using biomass can also reduce other atmospheric pollutants, and thus improve local air quality.
- Using residues will also improve the local environment, while at the same time planting energy crops on land not required for food production can generate jobs, improve rural economies and help maintain agriculture and forestry.
How does it contribute to achieving EU objectives?
- The EU has initiated a 'Campaign for Take-off' as a means of setting targets and promoting renewable energies through various activities. This will help the EU to reach its goals to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide level, as set out in the White Paper: Energy for the Future: Renewable sources of energy link 1
- In the White Paper, biomass is the main contributor to the EU goal of doubling the RES share from 6% in 1998 to 12% in 2010. The Campaign for take-off includes installing 10,000 MWth of biomass by 2010.
A look into the future
What are the future applications of biomass?
- Because biomass energy systems can be based on a wide range of feedstock and use many different conversion technologies to produce solid liquid and gaseous fuels, the spectrum of their future applications is large.
- The EU already obtains a significant fraction of its energy as heat and electricity from biomass.
- In addition to the current applications, in the future, biomass could play an increasing role throughout combined heat and power (CHP) and transport applications.
How can this technology be used in the long term?
- Biomass could be a basic element of the world's future renewable energy system. In the long term, biomass has the potential to produce 20% of the EU energy supply.
- To reach both the shorter term targets as set out in the White Paper and the long term targets, Europe needs to optimise the use of the agricultural and forest residues, to introduce energy crops and to adopt cost-effective, environmentally friendly processes, which are attractive to investors and acceptable to planning authorities and the general public.
What are the research requirements?
- The principal objective for future EU research should be to develop cost-effective integrated approaches from biomass collection to fuel production and use, which take sustainable biomass procurement and market opportunities into account.
- Sustainable biomass should be taken into account in any future development.
- The Commission has targeted priorities for future calls for research projects in this area and recognises the need for greater cohesion between efforts made by EU Member States. It has also identified the need for further investigation into the socio-economic and environmental impacts of biomass energy.
How can we develop a stronger market for biomass technology?
- If biomass is to play a strong role in the energy market this will require an adequate infrastructure in order to assure a steady supply. At present, significant residues are available for emerging biomass energy schemes. However, as they are insufficient, an investment is needed to encourage biomass production.
- Financiers and planners need to know where best to direct investment and how to respond to, and overcome, objections. The public need to be aware of and accept the benefits of energy from biomass schemes.
- There are still technology challenges to achieve the mass commercialisation of bioenergy in some sectors; e.g. co-firing, CHP and transport. Moreover, researchers and developers have to recognise the key issues to be addressed so that systems with improved conversion efficiencies and better economics can reach the market place.