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Assessing lignocellulosic biomass production from crop residues in the European Union: modelling, analysis of the current scenario, and drivers of inter-annual variability

Abstract: 

This study assesses crop residues in the EU from major crops using empirical models to predict crop residues from yield statistics, and analyses the inter-annual variability of those estimates over the period 1998-2015, identifying its main drivers across Europe. The models were constructed based on an exhaustive collection of experimental data from published scientific papers for the crops: wheat, barley, rye, oats, triticale, rice, maize, sorghum, rapeseed, sunflower, soybean, potato and sugar beet. We discuss the assumptions on the relationship between yield and the harvest index, adopted by previous studies, to interpret the experimental data, quantify the uncertainties of these models, and stablish the premises to implement them at regional scale –i.e NUTS3 level– within the EU. To cope this, we created a consolidated sub-national statistical data along with an algorithm able to aggregate (figures are provided at country level) and disaggregate (production at 25 km grid is provided as supplementary material) estimates. The total lignocellulosic biomass production in the EU28 over the review period, according to our models, is 419 Mt, from which wheat is the major contributor (155 Mt, 37%). Our results show that maize and rapeseed are the two crops with the highest average residue yield, respectively 8.9 and 8.6 t ha-1. The spatial analysis revealed that these three crops, which according to our results are feedstocks highly suitable a priori for second generation biofuels in the EU, are unevenly distributed across Europe. Weather fluctuation was identified as the major driver in residue production from cereals, while in the case of starch crops and oilseeds –which are predominant in northern Europe– corresponded to the marked production trend likely influenced by the agricultural policies and agro-management over the review period. Additionally, our study highlights the limitation of such empirical models to quantify lignocelulosic biomass in the EU