EUBCE 2016: Killing biomass complexity
Sustainable biomass could deliver 30 - 40 percent of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation efforts. However, biomass is complex and "complexity is poison for policy decision makers" hindering development.
Held at the beginning of June in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, the 24th European Biomass Conference and Exhibition (EUBCE) provided an in-depth insight into the role biomass can and should play in achieving the transition to a low-carbon economy, aka the bio-based economy, in Europe and elsewhere.
As conference host nation the Netherlands is a good ambassador. Its bio-based sector is estimated to have already contributed EUR 2.6 to 3 billion of added value to the Dutch economy since 2011, though it does not go unchallenged.
It’s time for a rational biomass debate, not a “bio or” food, it is “bio and” food, stated Marcel Wubbolts, Chief Technology Officer, DSM Innovation Center.
Time to act
Scientiﬁc evidence indicates that 73 percent of the 1 000 Gt (billion tonnes) “budget” to keep global temperatures below the 2 C threshold has already been “spent”, thus the time left to put in place e˛ective measures is limited.
We need low carbon solutions that deliver now and the sustainable use of biomass is undoubtedly included. Biomass and bioenergy are starting to play a signiﬁcant role in the development of systems that can provide stable energy supply that closely matches demand. It is already obvious that individual renewable energy sectors cannot develop in isolation since each has an impact on others, remarked Dr David Baxter, European Commission (EC), Joint Research Centre (JRC) and Technical Programme Chairman.
For most of the 1 700 or so participants at the conference, it is obvious yet the rate of progress contra potential is frustrating slow especially given the time urgency.
Complexity is poison for policy decision makers and biomass is complex, said Dolf Gielen, Director of International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) offering an explanation.
Professor André P.C. Faaij, Academic Director of Energy Academy Europe and Conference General Chairman described the conundrum in his welcome message; “the deployment of biomass for production of power, heat, transportation fuels, renewable feedstock and materials has be-come one of the most complex, promising, politicized and debated options we have at our disposal to combat climate change and create a sustainable energy system”.
One issue that crops up time and time again in the public debate is biomass potential and sustainable availability. A careful review of the available scientiﬁc literature indicates that mobilizing one billion dry tonnes of ligno-cellulosic biomass by 2030 in Europe is possible and this can be done sustainably.
This would mean a doubling of current biomass usage and would be sufficient to meet the expected demand both for carbon neutral fuels and materials, without competing with food production.
There is enough biomass in the EU for bio-based ambitions, assured Marc Londo, ECN who presented some ﬁndings from the EU-funded S2Biom project. The project aims to support the sustainable delivery of non-food biomass feedstock at local, regional and pan-EU level.
From across the Atlantic, Kevin Fingerman, Humboldt State University, US presented ﬁnd-ings from a study looking at projecting sustainable potentials and cost-supply curves to 2030 for forest biomass, read pellets, for export from the US southeast to the EU. In short, Fingerman concluded that there is “tonnes of underutilised biomass” available.
– This conference demonstrated that there are high-level talents working on all these issues, said Professor Faaij, in his concluding remarks.
– It is now about how do we link all this good work to the right arena. Now we need to ensure close interplay and engagement of the research community, the industry and the governance arena. I would like to call upon all the key players in the ﬁeld, especially international bodies such as UN, FAO, IRENA, IEA, EC, to organize the debate and to give it the focus it needs to solve the problems to progress, he said.
The 25th edition of EUBCE will be held in Stockholm, Sweden 12-15 June 2017. Hopefully, Faaij’s call is heeded before then so he and many others can begin to report tangible progress.