Biomass as a primary fuel for replacing natural gas and district heating

May 19, 2014
Biomass as a primary fuel for replacing natural gas and district heating

Biomass covers around half of our total renewable energy consumption and is expected to also contribute to half of the EU 2020 renewable energy target. As the political discussion on energy security is 'heats up', biomass is being considered a primary fuel for replacing natural gas and district heating. But how sustainable is it? Scientific experts, policymakers and NGO and industry representatives addressed this question at the recent European Biomass Association (AEBIOM) conference in Brussels.

The difference between and fossil fuels is one of time scale. According to the Biomass Energy Centre, if it is managed on a sustainable basis, biomass is harvested as part of a constantly replenished crop. This maintains a closed carbon cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

However, the closed vision for biomass may not always achieved. Additionally, the question of sustainability goes beyond CO2 emissions alone - it includes other concerns such as biodiversity and food security.

At the AEBIOM conference, European Commission representatives reiterated the Commission's conclusion that it is not necessary introduce binding sustainability criteria for solid and gas biomass in order to achieve the 2020 targets.

Giulio Volpi, of DG Energy, noted, 'The risks of unintended environmental impacts [from biomass] can be addressed and minimised through existing or new EU measures in other fields, not specifically the energy field ...There is a lot of potential with biomass that needs to be exploited and we need to make sure that the policy framework is supportive of biomass.'

However sustainability remains a distinct challenge for the sector. Peter Wilson of the Sustainable Biomass Partnership (SBP), an industry initiative, pointed to the insufficient uptake of existing sustainability schemes (FSC and PEFC) in key forest source areas. He presented the SBP's upcoming Biomass Assurance Framework as a 'bridging solution' offering a set of standards and processes which will allow sector companies to demonstrate compliance with legal, regulatory and sustainability requirements using existing mechanisms.

Uwe Fritsche, of the International Institute for Sustainability Analysis and Strategy (IINAS), offered the scientific perspective, listing the range of issues will face us as we attempt to transform into a bioeconomy with biomass as an important component. These include: greenhouse gas emissions from land use change and carbon stock change; biodiversity problems in terms of converting grasslands, wet lands and peat lands; food security and the land tenure issues and acidification.

Mr Fritsche also pointed to the 'fuel issue'. He noted, 'The more we trade bioenergy and the more we valorise forest products there is also a risk that we might misplace some of the fuel that is needed for the livelihood for a lot of people on this earth'.

IINAS is currently working with the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Environment Agency (EEA) and others to consider the latest science behind these issues. Mr Fritsche noted that talks are ongoing on potentially developing a matrix which identifies risks of greenhouse gas implications of using forest products.

The IINAS is also involved in one of the many EU-funded projects exploring the potential and sustainability of biomass. S2BIOM aims to improve the of the biomass delivery chain. Launched in September 2013, the S2BIOM team is working to design and evaluate optimal biomass delivery chains and strategies to support the sustainable delivery biomass feedstock at local, regional and pan European level.

Explore further: UK failing to harness bioenergy potential

More information:

Related Stories

UK failing to harness bioenergy potential

February 19, 2014

The UK could generate almost half its energy needs from biomass sources, including household waste, agricultural residues and home-grown biofuels by 2050, new research suggests.

Sharing the risks, costs of biomass crops

September 4, 2013

Farmers who grow corn and soybeans can take advantage of government price support programs and crop insurance, but similar programs are not available for those who grow biomass crops such as Miscanthus. A University of Illinois ...

EU edges towards renewable energy targets

March 10, 2014

The European Union is making steady progress towards its 2020 renewable energy target, a key effort in curbing the greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, official data showed Monday.

Screening Africa's renewable energies potential

February 8, 2012

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC) has published today a study mapping the potential of renewable energy sources in Africa. The report analyses the current energy consumption in Africa and assesses potential ...

Recommended for you

FCC votes along party lines to end 'net neutrality' (Update)

December 14, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era "net neutrality" rules Thursday, giving internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T a free hand to slow or block websites and apps as they see fit ...

US faces moment of truth on 'net neutrality'

December 14, 2017

The acrimonious battle over "net neutrality" in America comes to a head Thursday with a US agency set to vote to roll back rules enacted two years earlier aimed at preventing a "two-speed" internet.

The wet road to fast and stable batteries

December 14, 2017

An international team of scientists—including several researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory—has discovered an anode battery material with superfast charging and stable operation ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

May 19, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet May 20, 2014
No, it cost less, and recently a lot of articles and debates have been published on this topic. From what i understood, it is a feasible activity as it uses biomass wastes from the society ( households, agriculture, industry ) at a low cost and it burns it ( or a similar process ) as a mean of co-generation (bot electric current and heating).

Although it doesn't seem to be smth we can rely on a large scale, it's marginal efficiency to energy generation makes it worthy of taken into consideration.

The only concern is the waste collection efficiency, meaning how much of the total bio waste created by the society which could fuel such a system, can be collected?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.