Sustainable biomass availability

Biomass feedstock availability has often been raised as a justification to minimise the role of biofuels to decarbonise the transport sector. There are a few key questions regarding biomass availability: what and how much sustainable biomass would be available in 2030 and 2050? Is the production of advanced and waste-based biofuels in line with the current RED sustainability criteria? Would there be competition with other uses for biomass? How to minimise the impact on biodiversity?

The study conducted by the Imperial College London Consultants for Concawe, “Sustainable biomass availability in the EU towards 2050 (RED II Annex IX Part A/B)” sheds light on these questions.

The report concludes that the total domestic sustainable biomass availability potential in the EU by 2050 (based on agriculture, forestry and biowastes feedstocks, listed in RED II Annex IX Part A/B) is more than sufficient to supply sustainable advanced biofuels for half of the demand of renewable fuels. This assessment is based on the estimated amount of 30-80 Mtoe/y of advanced biofuels and 30-80 Mtoe e-fuels needed for aviation, maritime and a share of road transport (30-80 Mtoe/y), as defined in the demand scenarios developed by Concawe in its Transition towards Low Carbon Fuels by 2050: Scenario analysis for the European refining sector study report.  

The experts at Imperial College London Consultants assessed the availability of sustainable feedstocks in three different scenarios (low, medium and high; the high case scenario is based on improved mobilization of feedstocks and management practices in all EU countries, as well as higher yields and harvesting equipment efficiency). They found that even after the allocation of biomass feedstock to bio-based products and other non-transport energy sectors (eg: power, industry and residential sectors) in accordance with the European Commission’s estimate, the total share of sustainable biomass available for transport in 2050 is estimated sufficient to support the production of 70 to175 Mtoe of advanced biofuels in the low and high scenario, respectively, taking into account limited biomass imports to the EU (10% of global availability).

The study demonstrates that the potential is there and could even be higher as the biomass prospective availability estimated in this study is based on very conservative assumptions, as described in the report.

Moreover, biodiversity has also been carefully considered in the study, based on two key principles: conservation of land with significant biodiversity values and land management minimising effects on biodiversity.

To further assess the impact on biodiversity, Concawe commissioned a study from Fraunhofer Gesellschaft institute in collaboration with Imperial College London Consultants. ‘Biodiversity Impact Assessment of future biomass provision for biofuel production – Phase 1’ aims at determining the environmental impacts on biodiversity due to biomass production for bioenergy use. A fine-tuning analysis was conducted to verify if sustainable biomass availability harvested in unused, abandoned and degraded lands (estimated by Imperial College in the previous study) has no negative effect on biodiversity, taking as examples Germany and Bulgaria, countries with high biomass availability () and Miscanthus as an energy crop.

Currently, there is not one single accepted scientific methodology to assess the impact on biodiversity. Depending on what methodology is applied and how the current state of the land is defined, results can vary, especially for degraded lands. For this purpose, Fraunhofer Gesellschaft applied the Biodiversity Impact Assessment (BIA) method developed in Fraunhofer by Lindner et al.. In addition, a methodological comparison to the impact assessment method by Chaudhary & Brooks, called the Potentially Disappeared Fraction of spe

Consequently, the results of the study show that there are specific cases where biodiversity would not be harmed, but would instead be even improved, when degraded lands in some areas in Europe are used to produce advanced biofuels.

The study furthermore concludes that both methods show that without proper definitions of the state of land – especially for degraded land - clear assertions are hard to make. The state of land assessment require precise examination and evaluation of the areas, as well as proper definitions for unused, abandoned or degraded land.