At the beginning of August the European Commission published their most recent technical report on biomass sustainability. The staff working document titled “State of play on the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass used for electricity, heating and cooling in the EU” was published together with a JRC report entitled “Solid and gaseous bioenergy pathways”. The report is reasonably balanced in highlighting both the important benefits biomass can bring along with issues relating to preventing future risks of development of the energy source. An interesting point in this report is that a 70% GHG saving threshold is now being considered, yet one issue with this is that it may prove difficult to reach for certain supply chains.
The report, however, does not contain recommendations to Member States, but refers back to the 2010 reports which set the recommendations for MS. It can thus be said that this particular report does not close the EU debate on biomass sustainability. The document unambiguously recognizes the role of biomass to help address the problem of climate change, contribute to economic growth and stabilization as well as increasing the security of energy supplies. The paper highlighted different biomass technologies along with their benefits. These included Biomass CHP plants along with the use of biogases from AD plants which can be used along side the natural gas network when converted to biomethane.
The 2020 projections were mentioned, stating that the consumption of biomass for heating and electricity in the EU has grown since 2005. It is expected to further increase from 86.5 million tones of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2012 up to 110.5 (Mtoe) in 2020. By the end of the decade it is predicted that biomass will be used mainly for heating (90.4 Mtoe) followed by electricity (20 Mtoe).
The report notes that most of the biomass produced globally is consumed and used within its country of origin, and this has an effect on the sustainable and continuous supply of feedstock. It goes on to explain that there is no present risk of deforestation or reduction in forest areas from bioenergy developments within the EU, however increased extraction for bioenergy production up to 2030 could have detrimental effects of forests and their surrounding ecosystems. Nevertheless, the report recognizes that biomass power facilities, including those that are co-firing can have an intermediary role in the decarbonisation of the power sector.
In conclusion, the report has highlighted and made clear the following:
- Biomass will play a major role towards reaching the decarbonisation goals of 2020, and in the long term the goals of 2050.
- By 2020, most biomass being consumed will be domestically produced.
- No market barriers have been identified in this report.
- The majority of biomass will provide green house gas savings, however this is not the case for certain pathways, because of this more research is required to assess the role these pathways will play beyond 2020.
- The commission has confirmed that it will continue to monitor the origin and end use of biomass.
- Finally, for the period after 2020, a revised policy on biomass will be developed and rolled out.