Biofuels and bioenergy

Biofuels and bioenergy

Bioenergy will remain crucial over the next decade in order to reach the renewable energy targets in 2020, which is why the EU member states incorporated the bioenergy option in their National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs). As the JRC aims to provide independent scientific advice related to the production and use of biofuels, it assesses the environmental sustainability, evaluates the technological developments, estimates the land use change due to an increased biofuels demand, calculates the direct and indirect emissions from biofuels, land use change and different bioenergy pathways. The JRC likewise analyses the availability of straw and other types of biomass for energy purposes.

All costs and benefits of biofuels have to be taken into account to ensure a well-balanced policy. Resource assessment is therefore of particular importance. Knowing how much resource is available at what cost and with which environmental impact, gives indeed a better insight into some environmental parameters such as water needs, soil erosion and degradation and the impact on biodiversity.

When carrying out sustainability and resource assessments, the considerations extend beyond EU borders. As a large part of biofuels is expected to come from tropical countries (Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia) the JRC also takes into account issues which may have a positive or negative impact there: air and soil quality, water footprint, food prices and farm incomes.

The NREAPs state that about 9% of total transport fuels will be achieved through biofuels, almost all of which would come from so-called ‘first generation biofuels’. These are fuels produced from crops otherwise used for food, which can lead to direct (crops for biofuels grown on uncultivated land) or indirect (crops for biofuels diverted from existing food production) land use change, which in its turn results in a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions.

The JRC developed a methodology for estimating these emissions from direct and indirect land use change, based on economic models.

In order to avoid future competition for resources and land use between bioenergy, food production and wood, agricultural crop residues are expected to be a relevant source of bioenergy. The JRC has developed a spatially explicit assessment of agricultural crop residues and produced a straw-availability map.

Biomass is derived from different types of organic matter: energy plants (oilseeds, plants containing sugar) and agricultural or urban waste. Biomass can be used for generating heat and electricity, and for transport biofuels. Bioenergy and biofuels in 2010 contributed to around 63 % of renewable energy generation in the EU-27 for a total amount of around 2600 petajoules (PJ). Such a contribution is expected to increase to 5880 PJ in 2020, according to the National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs), in which the member states set out the targets per sector, the technology mix they expect to use, the trajectory they will follow and the measures and reforms they will undertake to overcome the barriers to developing renewable energy. Moreover, the Renewable Energy Directive imposes that 10% of the transport sector final energy consumption should come from renewable energy sources, which is mostly provided in the form of liquid biofuels.

The JRC is involved in many areas of research on bioenergy, and has pulled together its competencies in different scientific disciplines to address the issue of sustainability, in particular in-direct land-use change (ILUC).

The JRC is collecting information on the most important quantifiable parameters needed to formulate biofuels and bioenergy policy, such as sustainability studies, including Life Cycle Analyses, information on energy balance, greenhouse-gas-balance and environmental impacts. It also gathers techno-economic assessments of first and second generation biofuels, information on production and mobilisation costs, competitive use and impact on existing industries. In addition, the JRC amasses data on the effects on commodity/food/by-product prices and it makes overall cost-benefit analyses.

It furthermore analyses the water footprint for bioenergy production.

In cooperation with a wide range of partners, the Biofuels / Bioenergy Project is thus contributing to activities related to:

  • Agro-environmental assessment of direct and indirect impact of biofuels policies.
  • Scientific networking in the field of bioenergy at JRC (Biofuels Task Force) and at international level (International Energy Agency, European Environment Agency, OECD…).

More information

Alternative Fuels (ALFA)

European Biodiesel Board

Renewable Fuels Association

European Biofuels Technology Platform

Directorate-General for Energy – renewable energy

Well-to-wheels analysis of transport fuels

National Biomass Action Plans

Strategic Energies Technologies Information System- Bioenergy

Strategic Energies Technologies Information System - biofuels

European Biomass Association

European Biomass Industry Association

JRC Institutes