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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
A new brief prepared by the JRC shows that energy produced from biomass represented 59% of the EU's renewable energy consumption (and 10% of all energy sources) in 2016. Bioenergy is helping the EU to meet its target of 20% renewable energy by 2020. Consumption is expected to increase as the EU works towards its 2030 targets. Bioenergy is also expected to have a key contribution to the EU's 2050 long-term strategy.
The brief, published by the European Commission's Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy*, synthesises and summarises the latest available data on bioenergy in the EU. It shows how bioenergy not only contributes to renewable energy but also to the EU's energy security, as 96% of bioenergy feedstock is produced within the EU. Most of this comes from forestry.
Based on 2016 data, Germany, France, Italy, Sweden and the UK are the five largest bioenergy consumers within the EU-28. However, the Scandinavian and Baltic countries and Austria consume the most bioenergy per capita. The situation with regard to the different energy end uses varies from country to country. Germany, Italy and Sweden are among the top five countries in terms of the three end uses of bioenergy (heating and cooling, bioelectricity and transport biofuels).
Biomass includes a wide range of feedstocks, such as biomass from agriculture (crop residues, bagasse, animal waste, energy crops, etc.), forestry (logging residues, wood processing by-products, black liquor from the pulp and paper industry, fuelwood, etc.), and other types of biological waste (food waste, food industry waste, the organic fraction of municipal solid waste, etc.).
It must be produced, processed and used in a sustainable and efficient way in order to optimise greenhouse gas savings and maintain ecosystem services, all without causing deforestation or degradation of habitats or loss of biodiversity. The environmental performance of a bioenergy value chain greatly depends on the different steps of the pathway, from the growing and harvesting of feedstocks, to the processing, conversion and distribution of bioenergy carriers, to the final energy use. Consequently, sustainability needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The development of negative emissions technologies such as the use of bioenergy combined with carbon capture and storage would help to considerably increase greenhouse gas savings.
Possible alternative uses of biomass (e.g. for food, feed, wood products, etc.) also need to be considered to ensure the sustainability of feedstock supply from an overall bioeconomy perspective. The competitive use of biomass thus requires shifting from single end-use orientation to integrated production systems, by applying approaches such as the cascading use of biomass and integrated biorefineries.
* The JRC coordinates the Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy that brings together knowledge and scientific evidence from within and outside of the European Commission in a transparent, tailored and concise manner, to inform policymaking on the bioeconomy.