Why does Europe need to rely on sustainable bioenergy?
The Ukraine war exposed Europe’s heavy reliance on fossil fuel imports. Paul Bennett, Chairman of the Executive Committee of IEA Bioenergy, mentioned the advantages of bioenergy’s contribution to energy security in a fossil-free future.
Europe is looking for ways to wean itself off its reliance on coal, oil, and especially natural gas, and move towards climate neutrality. Energy conservation and renewable energy are key tools to achieve this. When it comes to sustainable energy independence and energy security, solar and wind power are in the spotlight. Little attention has been paid to the global potential of bioenergy from sustainable sources. Without bioenergy, urgent steps towards becoming fossil-free, improving energy security and climate neutrality will not succeed. It is a neglected part of the energy transition.
Three aspects of energy security, energy independence and climate change mitigation are the focus of bioenergy:
• We need to harness the huge potential of sustainable biomass energy production
• We need heat transitions for climate-neutral energy security
• We need to seize the bioenergy opportunity, combining renewable energy production with the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Viewpoint #1: Sustainable biomass energy has huge potential
Bioenergy is the most widely used renewable energy source in the world. It accounts for about 10% of the global energy supply (for electricity, heating, cooling and transport). In Europe, bioenergy accounts for about 60% of renewable energy.
Therefore, bioenergy is not only an important part of global energy security, but also an important part of European energy security. It allows for more independence from fossil fuels.Bioenergy prices are much more stable than fossil fuel prices; it can be produced from local sources; bioenergy is compatible with current infrastructure, so it is now available. Most importantly, biomass can be stored and used for a variety of purposes, providing heat and electricity, fueling transportation or providing renewable gas.
When bioenergy is produced from sustainably grown or waste and residue-based biomass, it contributes significantly to climate change mitigation.
However, bioenergy is in the competitive exclusion of solar and wind energy, which does not fully reflect its global importance. Only by scaling up sustainable bioenergy – in addition to strong growth in energy savings and other types of renewable energy – will we be able to meet the growing demand for renewable energy and achieve more (national) energy independence. About 96% of the EU’s bioenergy currently comes from the EU itself.
• Expanding the deployment of existing technologies, such as biomethane to replace fossil gases, or the use of biomass for cogeneration.
• Commercialize new technologies such as biomass gasification or integrated biorefineries to jointly produce biochemicals, biofuels and thermal energy.
• Ensure sustainable biomass supply for renewable fuels, for example by implementing certification and other sustainability governance systems.
Takeaway: To transition to a climate-neutral society, all types of renewable energy are important. We need to reduce energy demand and maximize the use of fuel, electricity and heat from renewable sources, including biomass, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the climate. This contributes to the goals of the European Green Deal and global and national energy security.
Viewpoint 2: Heat generation through bioenergy – the neglected
Heat generation (for buildings and industrial processes) accounts for more than 50% of global energy consumption and remains largely dependent on fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal. Getting rid of fossil resources in heat production is a key component of decarbonization. This fact is largely underestimated as the attention of policymakers and the public is more focused on electricity generation where other renewable energy sources (solar, wind) can play a leading role.
For thermal energy, biomass is currently the most important renewable energy source. It includes heat supply from the biological part of solid fuels, liquid fuels, gaseous fuels and wastes. Most of the bio-based heat is already generated from residual materials and green waste.
Biomass can be stored cost-effectively on a large scale (sawdust or pellet storage, biomethane storage, liquid biofuel storage) and can be used in a targeted manner. It is also capable of delivering high temperature levels of heat without the need for additional expensive technology.
• Reduce energy demand for home heating through efficiency measures
• Facilitate the transition from fossil fuels to renewable thermal energy in industrial processes
• Deploying district heating to replace individual fossil stoves and boilers in urban areas
Takeaway: The transition from fossil heating to a carbon-neutral and secure energy system is necessary. Bioenergy is neglected in the energy transition – especially renewable thermal energy – and is a decisive factor in energy security due to its enormous decarbonisation potential.
Viewpoint #3: Combining renewable energy production with the extraction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
To stabilize global temperatures in the coming decades, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so-called “negative emissions,” will be necessary, not just an option. This was recently confirmed by the IPCC (United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Sixth Assessment Report. One of the main negative emission pathways is “BECCS”, or bioenergy with carbon capture and storage. The carbon dioxide produced in this process – initially taken up from the atmosphere as plants grow – is not released back into the atmosphere, but is captured and stored underground. In this way, BECCS combines renewable energy production with negative emissions.
• Intensify research to improve carbon dioxide capture and storage processes
• Transforming BECCS from a pilot project to a full-scale project
• Improve business models and regulations for CO2 capture and storage
• Invest in carbon dioxide distribution and storage facilities
(Original source: Biomass Magazine, Global Biomass Energy Network, New Energy Network Comprehensive)