The Use of Woody Biomass for Energy Production in the EU

The European Commisssion’s Joint Research Centre has recently published a report as part of their long term mandate to assess the EU and global biomass supply and demand and related sustainability. The Commission committed to publishing this report on the use of forest biomass for energy production in order to inform the EU climate and energy policies that govern the sustainable use of forest biomass for energy production and the accounting of associated carbon impacts, namely the Renewable Energy Directive, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), and the Regulation on land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF).

The purpose of this study is to further our understanding on whether or not woody biomass for energy can be produced, processed and used in a sustainable and efficient way to optimise greenhouse gas savings and maintain ecosystem services, all without causing deforestation, degradation of habitats or loss of biodiversity

The report aims at:

  • taking stock of the available data related to the use of woody biomass for bioenergy;
  • assessing the uses of woody biomass in the EU with a focus on bioenergy;
  • providing suggestions on how to improve the knowledge base on forests in a harmonised way;
  • expanding the evidence basis by highlighting pathways that minimise trade-offs between climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation and presenting the policy implications derived from this evidence;
  • making some non-exhaustive recommendations for future research.

The report starts by making a deep analysis into the statistics available on the topic that quantify the woody biomass that is circulating in the energy sector.

The report then gives an overview of the breakdown of woody biomass used for bioenergy in the EU and analyses the trends. The circularity that characterises the forest-sector is also described through an analysis of woody biomass flows in the EU based on statistical analysis and expert knowledge. The importance of combining Earth Observation and statistics to quantify the natural capital in our forests is then explained while also illustrating the techniques used to both harmonise data across the EU in collaboration with National Forest Inventory experts and remote sensing data.

The last chapter focuses on the carbon and biodiversity impacts of forest bioenergy. A literature based approach is applied to assess the impact on carbon and biodiversity of the different bioenergy pathways studied. The concept of sustainable forest management is approached, paving the way for a discussion on three specific interventions that are commonly, but not exclusively, associated to the demand for Bioenergy (removal of logging residues, afforestation and conversion of natural forests to plantations). These are, through the lens of forest management, compared through a matrix to highlight the win-win and lose-lose settings.

Finally, it concludes with a description of the needs and prioritisation for future work on this topic.

Click here to download the full report