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Back to the future - 37 years of evolving trends for bioenergy

For the last 37 years, the European Biomass Conference and Exhibition (EUBCE) has offered its participants a peer-reviewed perspective on the evolving trends in bioenergy. Maurizio Cocchi, ETA-Florence Renewable Energies and Editor for BE-Sustainable Magazine delved into the archives and took a trip back to the future.

Preparing for high-level panel during EUBCE 2016, which was held in Amsterdam.

Preparing for high-level panel during EUBCE 2016, which was held in Amsterdam.

With almost four decades worth of documented cutting-edge bioenergy research, development and policy on the agenda, the European Biomass Conference and Exhibition (EUBCE) holds a truly unique position. Not just as a bioenergy event but also as a yardstick.

This June in Stockholm, Sweden, EUBCE will celebrate its 25th edition. During a discussion with Bioenergy International about this milestone at last year’s conference in Amsterdam, the idea to make a simple retrospective on the evolution of the biomass sector, as it could be observed through the lens of past EUBCE editions, came up. It sounded like a good idea so I accepted, although I could rely only in part on my personal experience, as I’ve been attending this conference only for the last nine years. However, I could count on the memories of the early

It sounded like a good idea so I accepted, although I could rely only in part on my personal experience, as I’ve been attending this conference only for the last nine years. However, I could count on the memories of the early organizers and on a precious legacy of the conference, the proceedings: thousands of pages in printed books and digital documents, that are carefully preserved in the archives at ETA-Florence. Indeed, the archives show Bioenergy International as a media partner for the conference since the early years.

Going through some of those pages in search of information was like making a small journey into the past and having a glimpse of what the future looked like by then. Europe and its Member States have begun developing policies and research programs for renewable energy, the EUBCE has always been an important event to collect knowledge and to share views of biomass experts from research, industry, and policy.

– Complexity is poison for policy decision makers and biomass is complex, said Dolf Gielen IRENA during the 2016 conference. Italy-headed bioplastics specialist company Novamont received the European Biomass Industry Association (EUBIA) award 2016.

“Complexity is poison for policy decision makers and biomass is complex”, said Dolf Gielen IRENA during the 2016 conference. Italy-headed bioplastics specialist company Novamont received the European Biomass Industry Association (EUBIA) Award 2016.

The first “International Conference on Biomass” was held in 1980 in Brighton, UK, and was organized by the Commission of European Communities, DG Research Science and Education, in cooperation with the Natural Environment Research Council of the United Kingdom.

These conferences had three important reasons: first, they helped the Commission to define its R&D programmes; second, they helped to learn about the National research programs and to avoid the duplication of efforts; third, they were an opportunity to promote international cooperation both with industrialized and developing countries, said Giuliano Grassi, Secretary General of the European Biomass Industry Association (EUBIA) and former responsible of biomass R&D programmes at EC DG Research.

At that time, the policy debate and the technological development in renewable energy was still at its early stages and the awareness about the possible contribution of energy from biomass was limited. The main driver for the diversification of energy sources was securing the supply of energy for Europe, keeping in mind the importance of nuclear energy, Giuliano says.

These quotes by the co-chairmen of the 1st Conference describe well this context: “For some European countries, an awareness of the promise of biomass has been slow to develop. Biomass has been regarded as a marginal source of energy that could at best make only a small contribution to national energy supplies. This conference made clear that biomass has much more than a marginal potential…The use of biomass as a source of energy in the EC could in the medium term meet 5 percent of the Community’s energy requirements and would have a positive effect on employment, the pursuit of regional policy measures and the balance of payments”. (P. Chartier, D.O. Hall, Energy from Biomass 1st E.C. Conference 1980).

How does this statement compare to where we are today?

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