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JRC “use of woody biomass for energy” report welcomed by Bioenergy Europe

With the sustainability of biomass firmly at the centre of media attention, a new report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission on the use of woody biomass for energy production in the EU calls for an honest and explicit discussion to “detoxify the debate surrounding the sustainability of wood-based bioenergy”. A call that has been welcomed by Bioenergy Europe that reiterates the industry's commitment to contribute to this debate in a constructive manner.

Only part of the biomass from felled trees is removed from forests during harvest operations, on average around 80 percent for the EU as a whole during the period 2004 to 2013. The remainder is left as logging residues (graphic courtesy JSC).

According to Bioenergy Europe, JRC’s recently published study “The use of woody biomass energy in the EU” underlines that swift and robust implementation of the recast Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) sustainability criteria will effectively minimize negative impacts associated with the use of woody biomass for energy.

For the implementation to be optimal, forest legislation and guidelines must be fit-for-purpose, properly enforced, and monitored.

Consistent with other findings

Moreover, the JRC’s research confirms that the largest share (49 percent) of EU wood for energy input mix is represented by by-products from wood processing industries, bark, and post-consumer wood. While the so-called ‘primary wood’ represents 37 percent of the mix, this is mainly derived from tree-tops, branches, and other low-value streams.

These findings are consistent Bioenergy Europe says, with the increasing synergies between the bioenergy sector and other forest-based industries, which are operating towards a circular use of sustainable raw materials.

Improve data availability

However, considering the complexity of interactions with other sectors, Bioenergy Europe notes that data availability could improve, and “trusts that” the full implementation of the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union will contribute to improved availability and quality of data on woody biomass uses.

Regarding the suggestion of lowering the exemption threshold for the implementation of the sustainability criteria (art 29, installations producing electricity, heating, and cooling or fuels with a total rated thermal input equal to or exceeding 20 MW, with the possibility for the Member States to implement a lower threshold), Bioenergy Europe believes that this should not be in the scope of the upcoming review.

Indeed, the JRC report does not cover socio-economic aspects, nor it takes into account cost-compliance. In addition, the study does not provide information on how the modification of this threshold could discourage further investments in the sector, undermining the achievement of the transition.

In addition, by further breaking down the primary wood used by the bioenergy sector, the JSC report underlines a little-known trend: at least half of the stemwood used in the bioenergy sector comes from coppiced forests. This management practice, which is amongst the oldest, represents an important source of economic development for rural communities/areas in Mediterranean countries (graphic courtesy JSC).

Concerning the conclusions of the study on how to improve the sustainability criteria, Bioenergy Europe supports the protection of primary forests, highly biodiverse grassland, and highly biodiverse forests adding that the bioenergy industry is committed to contributing to this debate in a constructive manner and willing to put its data and know-how at the service of decision-makers and the scientific community.

The bioenergy sector is proud to play a pioneering role in guaranteeing the sustainability of its supply chain: RED II sustainability criteria are the first step towards a holistic sustainability governance irrespective of final uses and geographical origin, said Jean-Marc Jossart, Secretary-General, Bioenergy Europe.

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