Bio-economy 2.0 - Bio resources in the transition to net-zero EU GHG emissions

All scenarios for a transition away from the use of fossil energy sources foresee a large increase in the use of biomass. Bioenergy is already a major contributor to our current energy system (providing 10% of EU energy in 2016, and almost 60% of all renewable energy, on a primary basis). Government policy as well as company strategies hope for a large further increase as a drop-in replacement for fossil energy. Current EU and Member States policies encourage or even mandate the increased use of bioenergy in power generation, heating systems, and as transportation biofuels. At the same time, several factors - such as the limited domestic supply of biomass, increased demand for biomass and competition for raw material - are now complicating this traditional approach, both on the supply side and demand side.

The EU faces important choices about how best to use an increasingly scarce resource. To date, policy has been slow to adapt to this situation. For example, renewable energy mandates continue to push for biomass use in power production, a decade after it became clear that other renewable sources will be much more cost-effective (and in the face of major question marks about the actual CO2 benefit). Policy also has created a major industry of first-generation biofuel supply and use, even as major EU car manufacturers bet on a future of electric vehicles and cease further development of combustion engines. Policy may now do the same for heavy goods transport, driving a ramp up of HVO imports and conversion of domestic biomass, even as truck manufacturers see cheaper solutions in electrification within a decade. Beyond sheer inertia, this is driven by a lack of an integrated approach and evidence base, as well as by a lack of policy coherence: policies that affect biomass use often are produced in silos, creating multiple pressures on bioresources without an assessment of the total effect. Without a change of course, there is a real risk of a policy-induced bioresource crunch.

The overall aim of the initiative is a major course correction in EU bioresource strategy, improving on current policymaking and company strategy by providing a new fact base and anchoring this with senior stakeholders. More specifically, the initiative will provide a coherent fact-base and set of scenarios for the most advantageous use of the full range of biomass resources in an EU transition to a net-zero economy. This would break truly new ground, integrating currently disjoint areas of analysis and policy: the intersection of bioresources with carbon management, the new developments in zero-CO2 materials production, the significant opportunities for electrification across the energy system, and the opportunity for circular economy approaches to alleviate pressures on bioresources.

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Mariana Hassegawa,
Material Economics
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