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Bioenergy and Europe's forests are growing – Biomass Supply Report 2021

Bioenergy is the main renewable energy source in the EU and its use diversifies Europe's energy supply, creates growth, jobs, and lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although the use of bioenergy has tripled since 2000, the ratio of wood fuel to industrial roundwood removals has remained almost the same while Europe's forests have increased in coverage and stocking density, according to Bioenergy Europe's Biomass Supply Report 2021.

Bioenergy is the main renewable energy source in the EU and its use diversifies Europe’s energy supply, creates growth, jobs, and lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Although the use of bioenergy has tripled since 2000, the ratio of wood fuel to industrial roundwood removals has remained almost the same while Europe’s forests have increased in coverage and stocking density, according to Bioenergy Europe’s Biomass Supply Report 2021.

Bioenergy Europe has released its Biomass Supply Report 2021, the sixth chapter of its Statistical Report 2021 focusing on the current state of play of biomass supply, forest and land management, and agricultural biomass. Bioenergy is the main renewable energy source in the EU and its use diversifies Europe’s energy supply, creates growth, jobs, and lowers greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

According to the Biomass Supply Report 2021:

  • 70 percent of the inputs for bioenergy come from woody biomass, primarily residues and waste products such as branches and sawdust from forest-based industries;
  • Agricultural residues from farming represent 20 percent of biomass feedstock. Climate change mitigation scenarios from the European Commission (EC), the International Energy Agency (IEA), and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA)  indicate increasing use of agricultural residues and biomass as a greater focus on the circular bioeconomy drives material utilization and the valorization of waste products; and
  • The remaining 10 percent of inputs are organic waste from both industry and municipal collection.

The report highlights that since 2000 the use of bioenergy has tripled, from 41 Mtoe in 2000 to 117 Mtoe in 2020, providing renewable energy for the most carbon-intensive sectors such as heating, transport, and electricity. As woody biomass is the dominant bioenergy feedstock source, the report provides an analysis on its relations with forests and forestry practices finding that:

EU forest area and stock density increasing: In 2020, the total forests stock in the EU27 amounted to around 28 billion m3 of wood. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Global Forest Resources Forest Assessment 2020, EU-27 forest coverage gained on average 262 000 hectares (ha) every year between 2021 and 2020. In addition, the overall forest density has risen from 133 m³/ ha in 1990 to 173 m³/ha in 2020.

Process efficiencies and synergies: Despite the growth in bioenergy, there has been no significant change in the shares of wood removal by end-use. In fact, the ratio of wood fuel to industrial roundwood – for sawmills, pulp and paper, and panelboard industries – has remained almost unchanged (19:81 percent in 2000; 23:77 percent in 2020). These figures, the report says, “further confirm” that the increased bioenergy use was possible due to more efficient use of residues and growing synergies with the forest-based industry rather than intensified harvesting practices.

Market offtake for unused/unmerchantable wood: Forests are increasingly subjected to stress due to climate change, weakening the defense systems of individual trees and increasing the overall vulnerability of forests. With an increasing area of forests being annually affected by pests, fires, and other climate disturbances, responding to these disturbances is becoming more important. Bioenergy plays an essential role by providing a market for low-quality residues and contributes to the affordability of necessary management operations. The valorization can thus help defray costs and provide funding for forest owners to improve the health of their forests and respond to disturbances.

Despite the growth in bioenergy in Europe, there has been no significant change in the shares of wood removal by end-use. The ratio of wood fuel to industrial roundwood – for sawmills, pulp and paper, and panelboard industries – has remained almost unchanged over the period 2000 to 2018 (graphic courtesy Bioenergy Europe).

Commenting on the report, Bioenergy Europe’s Secretary-General, Jean-Marc Jossart, highlights that the EU “Member States are best positioned to identify the optimal ways to manage their forests. Geographical and climatic differences between countries require an approach that satisfies each Member States’ unique situation”.

In this respect, EU policies should focus on the goals to allow the Member States to deliver on their objectives rather than imposing methods that would never otherwise be universal. This includes attempts to regulate forestry through non-forestry legislation like the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), rather an integrated approach should be promoted to help reduce forest vulnerability, Jean-Marc Jossart said.

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