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Report: Ag waste is of growing importance to EU's bioenergy sector

Agricultural residues like corn stover hold advantages over woodchips and pellets
Agricultural residues like corn stover hold advantages over woodchips and pellets

Agricultural residues such as straw and will play an important role in helping Europe generate renewable energy through to 2020. This is according to a report published by Rabobank.

The report, 'Ag residue provides the answer to EU's Bioenergy needs', says biomass feedstocks like straw and stover will increase in popularity because rising global demand for solid biomass is expected to increase prices for current bioenergy feedstocks such as woodchips and pellets.

The cost savings of firing these agricultural residues in dedicated plants is estimated between €15 and €63 million.

In the report Rabobank said 'the practical challenges of using residues will be overcome because their supply costs will be among the cheapest for bioenergy producers'. In addition, it said, waste agricultural materials 'are less likely to face the type of sustainability concerns that affect forestry-based biomass'.

Paul Bosch, Rabobank analyst, says: 'The importance of bioenergy will continue to grow in Europe as it is one of the cheapest renewable energy options and one of few to supply continuous renewable heat and power on a large scale. However, as the price of solid biomass increases, the search for non-forestry alternative biomass options will continue to rise.'

As well as their abundant supply and low costs, agricultural residues reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are estimated to be able to 80% compared to coal. A question mark remains over forestry biomass, on the other hand, on whether it does actually lower GHGs.

According to Bosch, 'Supply chain issues, which can arise from sourcing from a large number of suppliers, have so far prevented the widespread exploitation of agricultural residues, but with demand for bioenergy on the rise globally and a slow supply response, the question is whether bioenergy producers can afford not to tackle these issues.'

With this in mind, the report suggests that bioenergy project developers utilising agricultural waste establish and manage a secure supply chain, either by providing long-term off-take contract for residues, or by offering favourable payment terms to feedstock suppliers.

Bosch concludes: 'Initiatives in the UK and Denmark are showing that the business case for agricultural residues in bioenergy projects can work, on a relatively large scale, indicating the potential to replicate similar projects across Europe.'

Agricultural residues like corn stover hold advantages over woodchips and pellets