Knowledge is key to sustainable biomass transition
Providing detailed information on non-food biomass availability and appropriate conversion technologies will help to boost Europe's sustainable transition to a bio-based economy. An EU-funded project is helping to ensure that sustainable biomass is creating new revenue streams for agriculture and job opportunities in bio-based industries.
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The EU-funded S2BIOM project has provided key data to help policymakers, SMEs and industrial partners make sustainably sound decisions when sourcing non-food lignocellulosic biomass (dry plant matter). An easily accessible database of collated information and easy-to-use IT tools enable stakeholders to search for available types of non-food biomass across European regions.
Furthermore, it helps them to identify the most appropriate conversion technologies (for example, how to transform feedstock into the building blocks of useful chemicals, energy and fuels) for each of them. Policymakers can use the projects policy database to see how other countries have successfully facilitated the uptake of non-food lignocellulosic biomass.
The bio-based economys potential market uptake of lignocellulosic biomass has also been projected to 2030 using model-based estimations. This information gives new insights into how much available lignocellulosic biomass is likely to be taken up for energy, fuel, bio-based materials and chemicals, explains Calliope Panoutsou, a senior research fellow at Imperial Colleges Centre for Environmental Policy in the UK and scientific coordinator of the S2BIOM project.
The S2BIOM project has tapped into growing recognition of the economic potential of providing raw materials for bio-based industries. While European agriculture continues to supply a wide range of traditional food and feed markets, the emergence of these bio-based sectors including energy, fuel and chemicals is providing a lucrative new revenue stream as well as new job opportunities.
The growth of these sectors is also central to EU efforts to reduce fossil fuels, mitigate climate change, and cut import dependency by promoting locally sourced raw materials.
However, moving towards a bio-based economy is not straightforward. Increasing market shares of bio-based products raises questions about feedstock availability, land-use changes, sustainability and competition between traditional and emerging sectors, notes Panoutsou. The supply of non-food biomass feedstocks from European agriculture is a critical issue which offers multiple benefits but also entails risks.
On the other hand, creating new markets for agricultural residue and waste with currently limited or no value could significantly help to reduce competition for land and provide new revenue streams for rural economies. This would increase job and income opportunities in regions across Europe, says Panoutsou.
Sustainable biomass markets
The S2BIOM project set about making information available to ensure that European non-food lignocellulosic biomass is used sustainably. In this way, the transition to a bio-based economy can be achieved while guaranteeing agricultural supplies for both traditional food and feed markets and emerging bio-based markets.
The project began by collecting existing scientific evidence on the sustainable supply of non-food lignocellulosic biomass that could be used to support a resource-efficient European bio-economy. The project team, comprising scientific experts across Europe, reviewed, updated and validated harmonised data for 50 lignocellulosic biomass types in 37 European countries. This information is expected to have a significant impact on providing useful quantifiable estimates to inform future policymaking and industry decisions.
The complete biomass value chain from primary collection through to end use was then analysed and European regions with high biomass were identified and presented in country roadmaps made available online. The S2BIOM team also compiled a set of sustainability criteria and indicators, including environmental, economic and social parameters, for the short- and medium-term bio-economy. The aim was to improve understanding of those metrics with the potential to evaluate value-chain sustainability across energy and non-energy bio-based sectors.
All this data is available in both viewing and downloadable forms from the project website (which remains online), says Panoutsou. This information will provide clarity on biomass occurrence across Europe, both in terms of types and estimated annual sustainable quantities.