Biomass resources in agriculture

Biomass is derived from organic material such as trees, plants, and agricultural and urban waste.

The majority of biomass produced by EU agriculture comes in the form of biogas, and feedstocks for making biodiesel and bioethanol.

Biogas, biodiesel and biothenal are the three main categories of bioenergy provided by agriculture, and each has experienced dynamic growth in recent years.

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, short rotation coppice provides solid biomass, while agriculture also provides by-products and residues (such as straw) used for bioheat and biopower.

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 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.

Sustainable biomass production

Production of agricultural biomass in the EU, whether used for food, feed, material or energy, has to meet a series of statutory environmental rules regarding the quality of water, soils and air.

In addition, farmers receiving direct payments have to comply with the agricultural and environmental requirements and standards set out under the cross-compliance system.

Legal bases

All biofuels and bioliquids consumed in the EU must comply with the sustainability criteria set out in Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources, in order to be eligible for the targets or any other public support.

Biomass from forests should comply with the principles of sustainable forest management (SFM) that are aimed at safeguarding not only economic but also ecological and social functions of forests and apply to all forest management activities. EU countries are committed to follow principles of SFM in their forest management activities. When extracting more wood for energy, the site suitability has to be taken into account, considering impacts on biodiversity, site fertility, erosions, soil and watershed protection.