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EU has shortage of ‘sustainable biomass’ to meet bioenergy targets, study says

Sustainable wood waste, agricultural residues, manure, and other organic residues generated in Europe will only cover around 80% of the EU’s projected bioenergy use in 2030, a new analysis claims.

Conducted by environmental groups BirdLife Europe and Transport & Environment (T&E), the study states that if Europe does not limit the use of bioenergy eligible to meet the EU’s 2030 climate and energy targets, the shortage may well be met with unsustainable wood and food crops from home and abroad.

The study not only points to a shortage of sustainable biomass for energy, but also to a need to use different sources of bioenergy from those consumed today.

Europe is mainly using wood in various forms to generate energy and “bad biofuels” to power transport, with bioenergy accounting for 64.1% of Europe’s renewable energy sources in 2014.

However, the new analysis claims that sustainable biomass from agricultural and forestry residues would make up only 30% of the amount of renewables needed to meet the EU’s 2030 climate targets.

Demand for wood is also increasing in other industrial sectors, such as furniture, construction materials, paper, and packaging, while at the same time waste availability for energy use is falling due to improvements in waste management and the circular economy.

“Before burning it, sustainably produced wood should be used to build houses, and make furniture and paper. Thus, sustainable bioenergy that doesn’t compete with existing industrial uses can only play a modest role in decarbonising our energy system,” said Jori Sihvonen, bioenergy officer at T&E.

“Europe should limit the use of bioenergy and instead devote its efforts to promoting sustainable renewables such as solar, wind, geothermal and tidal.”

The environmental groups call for clear sustainability rules for biomass supplies to ensure there will be significant greenhouse gas savings, as well as no adverse impacts on the natural environment.

Not all bioenergy is sustainable, the study states, giving the example of food-based biofuels as well as burning whole trees in EU power plants being worse for the climate than their fossil counterparts.

“The EU needs a policy on bioenergy sustainability that separates the good from the bad and ensures we stay within the limits of what is sustainably available. The policy should rule out the use of agricultural crops and trees for energy to make room for the more sustainable kinds of bioenergy,” Sini Eräjää, EU bioenergy policy officer at BirdLife Europe, said.

Last year, the heads of the 28 member states agreed that 27% of Europe’s energy should come from renewable sources by 2030, up from 16% in 2014.

The European Commission is expected to publish the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) for 2030 at the end of this month.