25 July 2018 | Reading 8 mins.

Bioenergy: an asset to European forests

Jean-Baptiste Boucher
Communications Director, COPA-COCEGA

Jean-Baptiste Boucher, Communications Director, COPA-COCEGA

Of all biomass, wood has always been the most popular source of energy used in Europe. We all know someone in our family that has a traditional chimney or a modern, wood pellet stove in their home. In 2014, more than 69% of bioenergy consumed in Europe was sourced from forests, referred to as “solid biomass” under its fuel form and “solid bioenergy” when converted into energy. Bioenergy is the EU-28’s largest source of renewable energy, making up over 60% of the share of renewables and 10% of total energy on aggregate. Bioenergy is also the only renewable energy capable of providing energy in the 3 primary forms required by society: heat, electricity and transport. One might say that woody biomass is a key driver of Europe’s energy transition, while forests are an essential source of biodiversity and carbon storage. Understanding the strong synergies that exist between the production of bioenergy and the management of forests is crucial.

Bioenergy is the EU-28’s largest source of renewable energy, making up over 60% of the share of renewables and 10% of total energy on aggregate.

Woody biomass, a European success story

Solid bioenergy is above all a European success story – a sector in which Europe is a clear leader both in terms of production and consumption. The first developments of a modern bioenergy industry occurred in the 1970s with the production of efficient stoves, boilers, and new fuels such as pellets and briquettes. Yet it was not until the early 2000s, with the enforcement of the EU’s objectives on renewable energy, that the bioenergy sector established itself as a key player in the wood industry alongside traditional sawmill and paper industries. In 2015, more than 300,000 people were either directly or indirectly employed by the solid bioenergy sector, equalling the number of people working for the wind industry. This is largely due to the length and complexity of the bioenergy supply chain, which reaches remote and rural areas, where jobs are needed most. The bioenergy sector is shaped by hundreds of SMEs which are deeply embedded in the local and regional social fabric, creating an interesting dynamic between groups like forest owners, municipalities and fuel suppliers. To advance this relation, AEBIOM launched a campaign in late 2017 dedicated to the “European Bioenergy Day” (November 21) featuring success stories from across Europe to highlight bioenergy developments.

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Solid bioenergy and European forests

In debates on the revision of the EU Renewable Energy Directive, criticisms were presented on the pressure that solid bioenergy could put on European forests in the decades to come. However, a closer look and deeper understanding of the bio-based economy reveals shortcomings in this view. Observing the current rate of wood removals sourced from EU forests every year, 78% goes to the wood industry for the material use of wood. Only a fraction of wood removals, around 22%, are destined for energy, mostly comprised of tops, branches, and low-quality wood unfit for most material uses. 

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