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Status of Biomass Resource Assessments

The first step of the BEE project was to analyse a selection of existing biomass resource assessments covering different biomass categories and different geographic scales in order to document and identify the major differences and discrepancies in results and approaches and to provide ranges of quantitative and qualitative information on the total biomass resource potentials for energy in Europe.

A total of 55 biomass resource assessments were selected for detailed quantitative analysis. The chosen studies differ largely with regard to the type of potential and types of biomass considered, the time frame and the geographical coverage of the analysis. Four types of biomass potentials are commonly distinguished: (i) theoretical potential, (ii) technical potential, (iii) economic potential and (iv) implementation potential. Moreover, the concept of a fifth type of potential, 'the sustainable implementation potential', has been introduced. Depending on the goal and intended application of the study, these factors are defined in close collaboration with the authos / executing institution and the initiator / funding institution, i.e. they are externally influenced.

Figure 1 give an overview of the span in potentials reported at EU27 level for different biomass categories. The largest contribution to the total biomass potential for energy comes from dedicated energy crops on agricultural and marginal land. However, the range of results for energy crops is considerably large, as the development of key characteristics of the food system is highly uncertain. These findings emphasise the strong need to improve the accuracy and comparability of future biomass resource assessments for energy.

Figure 1

Thick lines indicate technical potential, thin black lines indicate implementation potential and dashed line represents highly optimistic scenarios in Smeets et al. (2007).

Figure 1. Summary of biomass energy potentials at European level in the sector-focusing potential assessments and the total potential assessments.


The analysis has shown that different terminology and systemisation of categories as well as insufficient documentation of approaches and scenario assumptions makes comparison of results quite difficult. In general, the major reasons behind the disparities in estimated potentials are:

  • ambiguous and inconsistent definitions of concepts of potentials,
  • lack of consistent and detailed data on (current) biomass production and land productivity,
  • ambiguous and varying methods of estimating (future) biomass production and availability,
  • ambiguous and varying assumptions on system-external factors that influence potentials (such as land use and biomass production for food and fibre purposes).

In cases with very large disparities between assessments, it is mainly the latter of these aspects (i.e. system-external factors) that explains the differences. A harmonisation of definitions, approaches and methods is needed to increase accuracy and comparability of results.

A comparison of the potential estimates in the analysed studies with the targets for biomass in the National Renewable Energy Action Plan has been made. The comparison shows that the envisaged targets for biomass are close to the lower range of the technical potentials estimated to be available domestically in EU27. Therefore both efficient use of energy from biomass and implementation issues for domestic biomass are of utmost relevance. Moreover it shows that both studies that assess the sustainable implementation potential of energy from biomass at national and EU level and measures that support the realisation of that potential are of highest importance.

The estimates for the total biomass potential for energy in Europe are in the same order of magnitude as IEA's projections for the future total primary energy demand in EU27. It is not possible to meet the entire demand with biomass only, but biomass could contribute a substantial share. The size of this share mainly depends on the amount of land available for dedicated energy crops, which in turn is influenced by the development of key characteristics of the food system like changes in population, human diets as well as in the productivity of the agricultural system. The fact that the biomass potential is smaller than the energy demand calls for a most efficient use of biomass and highlights that it is not an unlimited resource.

Political framework

The political framework to support the targets put forth for bioenergy differs from country to country, ranging from strong financial incentives to no measures at all - or even political barriers. Policy measures, targets and choices have proven to be of vital importance for the success of bioenergy sector development. It should be ensured, that bioenergy is considered an integral part of energy, agriculture, forestry, waste and industrial policies. Such a holistic approach to biomass is much needed, to avoid future conflicting developments and to maximize the benefits of bioenergy deployment.

A recent trend has been to widen the scope and borderlines of a bioenergy system inconsideration in such a way that the sustainability issues can better be taken into account, including indirect impacts like indirect land use changes. For example, the ambitious targets for transport biofuels have been questioned due to the fear of impacts on food availability and prices, as well as the loss of rainforests as consequences of incresed demand and the ability of the biofuel industry to pay for the biomass.

Related project reports

Status of Biomass Resource Assessments (D3.6)

Political Framework and User Requirements of Biomass Resource Assessments for Energy (D3.5)