Sustainability of biomass in a bio-based economy

A quick-scan analysis of the biomass demand of a bio-based economy in 2030 compared to the sustainable supply

In any consideration of sustainable biomass production, land use is the most critical issue, especially the indirect land-use impacts on greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity. Use of waste resources and agricultural and forestry residues that does not involve additional land use would therefore be a sustainable option. Technically, it is possible to use these types of resources for most applications in a bio-based economy. However, it seems unlikely that by 2030 waste and residue resources will contribute more than three to four per cent to final energy and feedstock consumption in Europe. Moreover, many waste and residue resources currently already have useful applications, as livestock feed or soil improvers, for instance.

In the transition to an ecologically sustainable bio-based economy that aims to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, three priorities can be distinguished: 
  • develop new technologies, procedures and infrastructure to collect or produce more biomass without using directly or indirectly valuable natural land;
  • develop technologies to produce hydrocarbons from types of biomass that potentially have the highest sustainable supply (lignocellulosic biomass), and stimulate application of these hydrocarbons in sectors of the economy where no or very few fossil-free alternatives exist;
  • develop a system of criteria, certification schemes and enforcement for all types of biomass that aims to reduce the impact of direct and indirect land use on greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity, to extend the current EU system, which is restricted to the direct impacts of transport biofuels.

report

Authors CE

Geert Bergsma

Utrecht/Delft, February 2012