Bioenergy covers – more than any other renewable energy – a wide range of feedstocks and conversion technologies (cf. Scrolling bioenergy section). Biomass of all types mobilised in Europe to produce energy accounted for 136.204 kilotonnes of oil equivalent in 2015. As a way of comparison, this means that biomass used for energy is on the way to overpass the European production of coal in the same period.
In general, more than two thirds of biomass consumed in Europe consists of solid biomass being mostly forestry residues and to a limited extent agricultural by-products (e.g. Wood industry by-products / Wood from Silviculture / Waste wood / Tall Fescue / Switchgrass / Short rotation Coppices / Miscanthus / Hedges / Green waste …).
Biogas and biofuels feedstocks represent 11% and 11% of gross inland energy consumption of biomass (e.g. Beets / Cereals / Crop by-products / Grass / Intermediate crops / Linseed / Livestock manure / Maize / Marine biomass / Rapeseed oil / Sludge / Waste vegetable oil and animal fats) .
Solid bioenergy feedstocks
Among all biomass materials, wood has always been the most popular source of energy used in Europe. However over the past decades, wood consumption has changed, moving away from the traditional image of the log placed in the family fireplace. In 2015, thanks to different research projects, Bioenergy Europe was able to offer a comprehensive insight on how woody biomass is consumed at EU-level. The residential sector is still the main share of wood energy consumption (27%) but is closely followed by the industrial use of wood chips – in installations above 1 megawatt (22%) – and small scale use of wood chips (14%). Pellet consumption in modern appliances is also growing fast, representing 6% of total EU wood energy consumption.
This evolution results from the development of the bioenergy sector. Historically, the European bioenergy sector has been developed to work in synergy with other wood based industries to give value to non-mobilised and/or low value biomass such as thinnings, low-quality wood, tops and limbs, sawdust or woodchips from industry. In fact, contrary to what can be said/written down, bioenergy providers in Europe do not use any type of wood indiscriminately; they mainly mobilise woody biomass sourced from byproducts of forest management operations and the wood industry such as sawmills. Bioenergy generators do not use high quality timber, for both economic and environmental reasons. Learn more…
According to ePURE, the European renewable ethanol association, 5.5 million tonnes of co-products were produced in 2016, of which 4 million tonnes was animal feed. The feedstock used to produce European renewable ethanol by ePURE members, for example, were cereals (74%); sugars (15%); Ligno-cellulosic (11%).
In the EU, bioethanol is mainly produced from grains and sugar beet derivatives. Wheat is mainly used in northwestern Europe, while corn is predominantly favored in Central Europe and Spain. Sugar beet users mostly include France, Germany and Belgium. Regarding the volume consumed for ethanol production, the required feedstock for the 2016 production (5.050 million liters of bioethanol) is estimated at 8,9 million metric tons of cereals and 8,8 million metric tons of sugar beets. In other words, this means that only about 2,9% of total EU cereal production and about 7.0% of total sugar beet production goes to energy purposes last year.
Bioethanol is not only a sustainable source of energy because of its low impact on land use but its production also provides EU farmers with €6.6 billion income per year. Contrary to common perception, it does not compete with other grain uses like food production and does not lead to negative impacts on food prices. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and the International Food Policy Research Institute even confirm that biofuels and food production can be mutually supportive.
Biodiesel’s most common feedstock remains rapeseed oil, accounting for 49% of total production in 2015, but its position is decreasing considerably, mostly due to the higher use of recycled vegetable oil/used cooking oil (UCO) and palm oil. In fact, UCO has become the second-most important feedstock, lead by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Palm oil came in third place in terms of feedstock followed by sunflower oil (3% of the total biodiesel feedstock). More specific sources of biofuel such as wood, fatty acids or cottonseed oil are used depending on local/national production.
The European biogas sector is very diverse. Depending on national priorities, whether biogas production is primarily seen as a means of waste management, as a means of generating renewable energy, or a combination of the two, countries have structured their financial incentives to favor certain feedstocks over others. In this regard, two countries represent the two ends of the scale: Germany and UK. Germany generates 93% of its biogas from the fermentation of agricultural crops and crop residues while United Kingdom relies almost entirely on landfill and sewage sludge gas. All other countries use a variety of feedstock combinations. Taking the EU-28 big picture, field crops, manure, agri-food industry waste represent around three-fourths of the biomass used for biogas production, a share that tripled since 2010. Sewage sludge and landfills represent the last fourth.
Renewable municipal and industrial wastes feedstocks
Waste-to-Energy is the fourth most important category of bioenergy feedstock used in Europe. More than 435 installations in the EU-28 could rely on the yearly waste production of both industries and municipalities. In 2015, Europeans treated a total amount of 235,4 million tonnes of municipal waste out of which 23% went to waste-to-Energy plants (54 million tonnes) still remaining behind recycling (30%) and landfill (26%) practices.
Adding industrial waste management, Waste-to-Energy plants treated 88 million tonnes of waste in 2014.