Bioenergy can play an important role in combating climate change as well as improving the security of energy supply in Europe. However, biomass for energy is a complex matter, as there are many different biomass-to-energy-value chains.
Sources of raw material include:
The final energy can be used for heat, electricity and transportation fuel. Many different conversion pathways from feedstock to final energy exist today, such as small scale combustion, large industrial combustion units, gasification, pyrolysis, steam process, Organic Rankine cycle (ORC) process, fermentation, and esterification. In order to achieve development in the bioenergy sector over the coming years, there is a real need for a favourable policy environment to bring new technological and scientific advances to the market.
The RES Directive laid down a 20% RE target for 2020 and therein stated that 10% of final energy consumption in 2020 would have to come from for renewable transport fuels. With these targets in mind, it is evident that a range of bioenergy technologies need to be deployed over the coming years in order to meet those targets. Experts believe that biomass is likely to contribute half the 20% renewable energy target. Today 61 Mtoe of biomass is used as final heat, main raw material fire wood, chips, pellets and other by-products, 9 Mtoe as electricity and 8 Mtoe as biofuel.
In efforts to achieve competitiveness, the renewable energy industry is today faced with technological and economic challenges. In addition to these general challenges, bioenergy is confronted with pressing and controversial questions relative to its feedstock. The competition with other uses of biomass (i.e. energy vs. food), and requirements for sustainable bioenergy production, now dominate discussions. It should, however, be pointed out that both the bioethanol and biodiesel production chain have protein-rich animal feed as a by-product, meaning that biofuel production does not compete with animal feed, in fact it would help reduce the import of often unsustainable animal feed from other parts of the world.
Future development depends to a large extent on the economic framework created by Member States. The leading principles for the further development of bioenergy in future energy systems are sustainability, efficiency and competitiveness. Bioenergy has to bring to commercial maturity the most promising technologies that fit these principles. Developing a longer term R&D programme to support the bioenergy industry beyond 2020 and looking towards 2050 is a key parameter for the success of the sector.
The topics that will affect R&D in the area in the coming years are the development of new feedstock, the integration of bio-energy into supply structures with new conversion technologies, monitoring conversion and biogas technologies, modelling of the bioenergy value chains, the development of digestion technologies and the development of both consulting and training programmes.
The technologies that have the biggest market potential and are already developed and robust are co-firing of biomass and combustion of biomass by Combined Heat & Power (CHP), as well as biofuels, as alcohol and oils have been produced on an industrial scale for many decades. At this moment in time, the weakest technology is bio-hydrogen production, however, it may well have a great market potential following development in the coming years. As far as biofuels and bioliquids are concerned, their market share will be increased with the introduction of advanced biofuel products and as bioliquids are produced for the aviation sector, as well as for inland navigation and heavy duty vehicles.
When thinking of the power system in 2050, many options are currently being discussed on how to integrate fluctuating renewable energy sources, for example via virtual power plants (i.e. real power plants of different nature and energy storage devices all interconnected and distributed into the power system through information and communication technology (IC T) and different transmission and storage options on the supply side and demand side management on the energy customer (end-use) side. Bioenergy is an attractive solution to the challenge of integrating renewable energy in the electricity grid. It is a renewable energy source with the properties of fossil fuel (high energy densities) and is as such stored chemical energy. It is therefore suitable to substitute fossil fuels in the transport sector and in the heat and power sector. Bioenergy is also of interest as a balancing power. Electricity production based on biomass should be concentrated on combined heat and power (CHP) plants of different sizes. Micro CHP still has to be developed for the market. CHP offers high efficiency, but requires in many cases new DH grids.
In the future, more than two thirds of the contribution of bioenergy to the final energy consumption in Europe could be in the heating sector. This would require the heating systems in tens of millions of houses to be changed, the building of many district heating systems (large and small), and the change of the heating system in many companies of the production sector. The technology is available – efficient and low emission wood logs, wood chips and pellet boilers/stoves for small scale applications and DH plants running on various biomass fuels.
Biofuels are important to improve the sustainability of the transportation sector. Current biofuels, mainly from Europe, should maintain an important position, as they can save up to 88% greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels and their production delivers almost double the amount of protein feed (defined in energy units), as liquid fuels. Advanced biofuels will continue to increase their market share. Bio-refineries contribute sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of marketable bioenergy products and they will develop over the coming years and will have an important role in a 2050 strategy. Biofuels offer the possibility of having multiple energetic and non-energetic products from a mix of biomass feedstock (wood, energy crops, organic residues, aquatic biomass, and waste).
Firstly, there is a need for multi-disciplinary scientific knowledge, so that a mixture of technologies can be developed that are adapted to individual energy issues. The setting up of an efficient network of EU Centres of Excellence, with the aim of collecting information on the bioenergy sector, helping the communication between stakeholders and disseminating information on a variety of relevant issues, will be key to achieving the bioenergy objectives set out above. Last but not least, international collaboration is very important.
Projects that will be important in the coming years in the sector of biomass/bio-fuels that currently form the technology roadmap of the European Industrial Bioenergy Initiative (EIBI) are: