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Current trends for forest biomass for energy in the EU
04 June 2014
European Forest Institute
The EU aims to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. Renewables include wind, solar, hydro-electric and tidal power as well as geothermal energy and biomass. These ambitious targets set in the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) have led to concerns about the levels of woody biomass from forests which would need to be mobilized to meet them. Recently, three NGOs – Birdlife Europe, European Environment Bureau, and Transport and Environment – contracted EFI along with the International Institute for Sustainability Analysis and Strategy (IINAS) and Joanneum Research to conduct a study on current trends in forest biomass for energy in Europe, carbon balance and the sustainable potential. This study was launched in Brussels on 21 May 2014 with many interested parties from NGOs, industry and the European Commission in attendance.
EFI presented two alternative mobilizations of forest biomass. The reference mobilization was based on a dynamic response to Renewable Energy Directive targets with increasing infrastructure and mechanization and stronger forest owner groups to 2020 and beyond. In this case, meeting climate and energy targets would be the main driver. The negative environmental effects of intensified use of forest resources would be weighed against, and considered less important than the negative effects of continued reliance on fossil fuels. This mobilization would see a potential availability of 880 million m3 of woody biomass by 2020. The low mobilization assumed much stricter environmental constraints on forest biomass removal such as prohibition of stump removal, no fertilizer use to replace nutrients lost when forest material was removed and an increase in the area of protected forests and retained trees. When compared with the reference, this mobilization resulted in a 33% lower availability of total biomass from forests in 2020 to 583 million m3. To place this in context approximately 470 million m3 of woody biomass was harvested from European forests in 2010.
The amount of forest-derived and woody biomass was then estimated that could be sustainably supplied for energy uses without compromising material uses of wood. The role of sustainable woody bioenergy in the future EU energy system was analyzed for electricity, heat and transport fuels, taking into account the potentials for energy efficiency, and non-bioenergy renewables. Overall, the study found that the lower mobilization of forest resources would be sufficient to meet woody material demands only if resource efficient cascades and stringent energy efficiency measures were implemented.