EU bioenergy development to 2050

S.J. Mandley, V. Daioglou, H.M. Junginger, D.P. van Vuuren, B. Wicke

A group of authors from the University of Utrecht (UU) and the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency (PBL) have published a paper that aims to provide ”a holistic, up-to-date and quantitative understanding of EU bioenergy development over the mid (2030) to long term (2050)”. The paper is published in Elseviers Renewable and Sustainable Reviews Journal. You can access or purchase the paper, depending on your institutions rights, here.

Some important facts and numbers from the paper are:

  • Domestic biomass supply in the EU might exceed the projected demand.
  • Upper bound estimates for domestic supply exceed that of the demand range by 13–24 EJ/yr in 2030 and 1–23 EJ/yr by 2050.
  • It is expected that the EU will mostly import their feedstocks while EU biomass exports are not expected. This is true for the medium (2030) and long (2050) terms.
  • Most studies see an increase in the level of imports from the 2030 volumes: EU bioenergy development could entail 0–60% to be met through imports by 2030 and 13–76% by 2050.
  • The composition of local (domestic EU biomass) supply remains the same in 2030 and 2050. It “is composed of forestry (29–50%) and agriculture residues and energy crops (30–70%)”.
  • The availability of advanced technologies that can make use of cheaper and readily accessible biomasscan lead to a fourfold of current EU bioenergy deployment.

Biomass Trade

The study finds that by 2030 the EU would mostly import their feedstock with only one of the studied models projecting exports of biomass for bio-energy. According to the study, a major limitation for exports would be the technical supply potential. Therefore, despite an increased bioenergy demand, the low level of exports expected in 2050 would result in a surplus of domestic biomass.

Importing biomass can be more profitable to the EU due to the lower costs of labor and land in other regions. In fact, most projections expect no “meaningful reduction in domestic bioenergy production costs within the EU” by 2050.

The economic accessibility of domestic EU biomass depends mainly on four factors:“(1) price developments and availability of imports,(2) developments of other low-carbon technologies, (3) profitability in non-energy bio-products and (4) perhaps most importantly for climate targets enforced sustainability criteria for GHG reductions”.

In fact, stricter sustainability requirements in the EU can have a great impact on the amount of biomass imported into the EU. With policies such as the Renewable Energy Directive in place, the demand for more sustainable feedstock would increase. This would in turn reduce the demand for feedstock from other regions with more complex supply chains and which originate from less sustainable sources.

Energy security

The uptake of renewable energy in Europe can also increase energy security as compared to the current dependency on fossil fuels. This is true even with an increased bioenergy import dependency.

EU resource base

The review finds that the EU relies heavily on forestry feedstocks (29-50%). This can lead to a mismatch between EU domestic supply and demand unless significant structural changes in the EU bioenergy demand sectors take place. In any case, the study warns over the adequate management of the resource base so that a net negative impact on global warming potentialcan be achieved.

Competition of different biomass applications

The study finds that using biomass for non-energy applications (bio-based products) would not bring significant GHG reductions by 2050 and would bring only around 20% reductions by 2100. Bioenergy as a replacement of fossil fuels can therefore be a more efficient reduction option as it replaces directly the carbon emitted from fossil fuels.

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