In preparing its climate and energy goals towards 2030 and further, the EU Commission has commissioned many studies. One such report was published a few days ago. Entitled “Carbon Impacts of Biomass consumed in EU” this document was the outcome of extensive studies focused on this complex issue. The report was prepared by a consulting consortium of the UK’s Forest Research, Alterra and VTT.
Combating climate change is mainly related to the fight to drastically reduce fossil fuels use in transportation, heating & cooling and electricity. Climate change is a problem that has resulted from the atmospheric buildup of CO2 mainly due to the use of fossil fuels over the last 200 years.
In this context, bringing down the greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere will be a long standing project for which no fast track cures exist. However ending the use of fossil energy is the top priority. For this work bioenergy from various raw materials and in many end product forms has proved to be an outstanding renewable solution. Having said this, to me one of the key sentences in this report is that “All projections scenarios developed in the project achieve significant reductions in total annual GHG emissions compared to the reference scenario (carry on scanrio), including those scenarios involving increased bioenergy consumption in the EU.”
Long standing – and most importantly sustaining – climate combating actions require economic stability too. The “back off” scenario (where biomass use is deprioritized after 2020) indicates that without continued and increased use of bioenergy the costs reaching renewable energy targets would be much higher. This does not imply that the other renewable energy sources used in place of bioenergy cost significantly more than bioenergy sources. Bioenergy and other renewables should not be considered as competitors but should rather find mutually supporting approaches to replace fossil fuels
Renewables are at different stages of development: Bioenergy has a long history in supporting societies’ needs and still providing improvements. More recent forms of renewables are coming up fast and the speed of growth is faster than for bioenergy at the moment. At the same time it is clear that bioenergy will continue to play a major role in the EU on a wide range of applications from aviation and land transport to heating houses, industry processes and producing electricity.
The main drawback in this report comes in my opinion when comparing material wood use and bioenergy. In fact, combined use of forests for both material uses and bioenergy is a common practice in a majority of countries, adding greatly to wood mobilization and profitability for both uses. Let’s take the example of my country, Finland. We already have reaped the benefits of producing bioenergy with minimal embedded fossil energy, nearly 100 % renewable, as there are good synergies within the industry. Renewable diesel, ethanol and electricity are being produced in parallel.
In my view, one other systemic source of misunderstanding in the report is related to the idea that bioenergy use could not replace present wood use for other products, nor could it increase total forest felling levels without being somehow riskier after 2030. Further evolution on this thinking is that wood that is considered even suitable for material use would be deemed higher in GHG risk. Situations within European forests are very diverse therefore increased wood use has to be evaluated in light of local needs or practicality related to forest ownership structure. Forced cascading does not work in the market and notably the principle should not be imposed on GHG calculations.
In the meantime, it is also pleasing to see that Matthews et al, author of this study, identify several active forest management measures as possible to increase forest bioenergy production and use same time with general forest increment and GHG emissions reduction.
Finnish Bionergy association