Biomass: The Role of Science and Science-Based Policy-Making

23 May 2019 - // Features
Maria da Graça Carvalho
Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) Unit, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission

Strengthening scientific knowledge and science-based policy-making is crucial to advancing research and innovation and securing a carbon-neutral future. When looking at the EU’s energy and climate action policies, biomass plays a key role as a renewable resource helping to meet the Paris climate targets, making a case for why it should be approached in such a manner.

Prioritizing: Energy and Climate Action

Making energy more secure, affordable and sustainable is one of the 10 priorities of the European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker (REF 1). While the EU is building an Energy Union (REF 2) to ensure Europe’s energy supply is safe, clean and accessible to all, Europe is also a global leader in the fight against climate change—two objectives that are supported by the five pillars of the EU’s Energy Union strategy: security of energy supply, internal energy market, energy efficiency, climate action and research and innovation.

The Three key components at the intersection of energy and climate targets are ensuring the uptake of renewables, increasing energy efficiency, and decreasing of greenhouse gas emissions. In November 2018, new rules on renewables, energy efficiency and the governance of the EU were agreed by the European Parliament in the “Clean Energy for All Europeans Package.

While the EU’s previous renewable energy target for 2020 was 20% energy from renewables, (REF 8), the framework agreed in 2018 fixed a new target for the EU in 2030: a binding renewable energy target of at least 32% (REF 9) which also includes a review clause by 2023 for an upward revision of the EU-level target. These set of targets will contribute to the Commission’s vision for a carbon-neutral future (REF 10) in line with the Paris Agreement objectives to keep the global temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5°C.

In addition, the 2030 climate and energy framework sets a target of at least 40% GHG emissions cuts when compared to 1990 levels. When the policies on renewables and energy efficiency in the Clean Energy package are fully implemented, they will lead to some 45% emissions cuts by 2030 when compared to 1990, instead of 40%.

Europe clearly has the potential to develop a new generation of low carbon technologies

The EU has set itself targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions progressively up to 2050. There is now a broad, global consensus on the need to reduce GHG emissions by 50% by 2050. This objective represents a cut of at least 80 % in GHG emissions throughout the industrialized world. This necessarily entails a considerable reorganisation of society and with it of business activity, transport, leisure, urban planning, housing and electricity.

Spotlight on Biomass

Biomass and waste accounts for around 2/3 of all renewable energy consumption in the EU. For biomass to be effective at reducing GHG emissions, it must be produced and harvested sustainably.

Biomass is part of the only feasible scenario for delivering carbon-neutral solutions for aviation (long-haul flights), shipping and heavy road transport

The revised Renewable Energy Directive (REF 9) adopted in December 2018 by the European Parliament and by the Council of Ministers of the European Union, ensures the sustainability of bioenergy, or energy produced from biomass, through different provisions. In particular, the directive addresses the negative indirect impact that the production of biofuels may have due to Indirect Land-Use Change (ILUC).

The use of biomass for the production of power, heat, transportation fuels and materials, if the sustainability is ensured, is one of the most promising options to combat climate change. As of today, biomass is part of the only feasible scenario for delivering carbon-neutral solutions for aviation (long-haul flights), shipping and heavy road transport. Biomass will continue to play a role in the development of carbon neutral or negative emission solutions, for example in combination with Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) or Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technologies.

The European Commission is working diligently to ensure research and innovation in biomass and bioenergy, as supported by the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI-JU) (REF 13), which is a €3.7 billion public-private partnership between the EU and the bio-based industries consortium aiming to develop new bio-refining technologies to transform renewable, natural resources into bio-based products, materials and fuels in a sustainable fashion.

Research: from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe

Achieving the targets set for 2030 and 2050 will require the development of new, more efficient and less costly technologies; Europe clearly has the potential to develop a new generation of low carbon technologies. We can reach affordable, clean energy for all through strong investment in research, science and innovation, and deployment on industrial scale given the right market conditions. That is why our EU Research and Innovation programme – Horizon 2020 – devotes 60% of its €77 billion to sustainable development, and that climate-related expenditure should exceed 35% of the budget. However, overcoming barriers is equally important. Despite aviation biofuel production reaching 15 million liters in 2018, it accounted for less than 0.1% of total aviation fuel consumption, signalling market development is needed to encourage more sustainable means of transport, which is what Horizon 2020 projects, like ADVANCE FUEL are seeking to do: uptake the commercialization of such fuels by generating knowledge, tools and standards to overcome such barriers. In addition, the European Commission has proposed €100 billion for the new (2021-2027) EU Research and Innovation Programme – Horizon Europe.

In Horizon 2020, the energy challengewas designed to support the transition to a reliable, sustainable and competitive energy system with a budget of €6 million for the period 2014-2020. The EU promotes the growth and development of a sustainable European bio-economy in which one of its core components is the greater uptake of biomass. Researchers under Horizon 2020 are working to establish reliable, sustainable and appropriate supply chains of biomass, by-products and waste streams and a wide network of state-of-the-art bio-refineries throughout Europe.

Science Evidence in Policy-Making

Among the techniques that can mitigate CO2 emissions are those that are referred to as Carbon Capture and Utilization (CCU) technologiesthat can be used with biomass to deliver climate benefits. The Group of Chief Scientific Advisors was asked by the European Commission to advise on the climate mitigation potential of CCU technologies in view of future policy decisions in this field, including on financial support by the European Union.

Scientific knowledge is the foundation of scientific evidence and science-based policy making

Scientific evidence is at the very heart of the European Commission’s goal of better regulation, and for this reason, the Commission created the Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) to provide high quality, timely and independent scientific advice for policy-making. The Group has up to 7 members, all distinguished scientists, reflecting the breadth of scientific expertise across Europe. They work closely with the scientific community, mainly through the Horizon 2020 EU-funded Scientific Advice to Policy by European Academies (SAPEA) project consisting of 5 European academy networks (Academia Europaea, ALLEA, EASAC, Euro-CASE, and FEAM). (REF 14)

The Opinion on the climate mitigation potential of CCU technologies (REF 15) makes a set of recommendations informed by the SAPEA Evidence Review Report, (REF 16) which analyses different scenarios for the use of “Sustainable CCU” technologies, collecting CO2 (capture) either directly from the air (direct air capture DAC), concentrated point sources or indirectly from using biomass in processes that are assumed to have captured CO2 from the atmosphere in a sustainable way.

The Bio-CCU concept combines biomass use with carbon capture and utilization. Bio-CCU will be climate neutral in the cases the CO2 used is re-emitted at a later point. CCU resulting products are also of very different nature and have different lifetimes. In the case of fuels, CO2 is bounded in the time scale of days/weeks, chemicals in the time scale of decades and in materials of centuries. In the last case, where the CCU product is a material and, the carbon is bounded for centuries, the process may be considered as permanent storage. For these cases and for the cyclical CCU (if the carbon remains in the technical carbon cycle), Bio-CCU has the potential to achieve negative carbon emissions and thus have a significant, albeit theoretical climate change mitigation potential.

To assist policy-makers in dealing with some of these complex scenarios, the Opinion contains a set of recommendations: a CCU project should only be included in Climate Change Schemes, if with a rigorous cross-sectorial and systematic methodology, the project is able to demonstrate and to quantify its CO2 mitigation potential. The following conditions should also be fulfilled:

  • The required energy has low-carbon origin, with high availability and low cost
  • Other more cost-effective solutions do not yield comparable products available in sufficient quantities
  • The readiness level of CCU projects will meet the objectives
  • There are supplementary benefits of the CCU projects in addition to climate mitigation potential.

EUBCE 2019 Follow-Up

The EUBCE 2019 conference will be the meeting place to discuss all these new developments, promote research and innovation in biomass, bioenergy and biomaterials, while assessing the challenges and successes of industrial applications. EUBCE 2019 will also focus on science and scientific evidence in policy-making in the field of biomass, bioenergy and biomaterials, and discuss the best ways to use the most up-to-date scientific results in the policy-making cycle while assessing the successes of industrial processes using biomass for energy and materials applications toward reaching the EU 2030 and Paris targets. Let us also not forget the special focus on Africa and Latin America in 2019!


  • REF 1 – A New Start for Europe: My Agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change. Political Guidelines for the next European Commission, 15 July, 2014.

  • REF 2 – Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank. A Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy /COM/2015/080 final.

  • REF 3 – Communication from the Commission to The European Parliament and the Council: European Energy Security Strategy /COM/2014/0330 final.

  • REF 4 – Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council: Achieving the 10% electricity interconnection target Making Europe’s electricity grid fit for 2020 /COM/2015/082 final.

  • REF 5 – Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Delivering a New Deal for Energy Consumers COM/2015/0339 final.

  • REF 6 – Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions – 20 20 by 2020 – Europe’s climate change opportunity {COM (2008) 13 final} {COM (2008) 16 final} {COM (2008) 17 final} {COM (2008) 18 final} {COM (2008) 19 final} /COM/2008/0030 final.

  • REF 7 – Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council, amending Directive 2012/27/EU on energy efficiency. COM (2016) 761 final, 30.11.2016.

  • REF 8 – Directive (EU) 2018/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 amending Directive 2012/27/EU on energy efficiency.

  • REF 9 – Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of The Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources.

  • REF 10 – Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank: “A Clean Planet for all – A European strategic long-term vision for a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy” 28.11.2018 COM (2018) 773 final.

  • REF 11 – Solid and gaseous bioenergy pathways: input values and GHG emissionsEuropean Commission Joint Research Centre Institute for Energy and Transport, ISBN 978-92-79-47895-6 (PDF), ISSN 1831-9424 (online), doi: 10.2790/299090, European Union, 2015.

  • REF 12 – Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on sustainability requirements for the use of solid and gaseous biomass sources in electricity, heating and cooling. Brussels, 25.2.2010, COM (2010)11 final.

  • REF 13 –

  • REF 14 -

  • REF 15 –Novel Carbon Capture and Utilisation technologies. Group of Chief Scientific Advisors. Scientific Opinion 4/2018. European Commission, Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, Scientific Advice Mechanism Unit. Print ISBN 978-92-79-82007-6 ; doi:10.2777/824461 KI-02-18-479-EN-C; PDF ISBN 978-92-79-82006-9 doi:10.2777/01532 KI-02-18-479-EN-N. European Union, 2018.

  • REF 16 – Novel carbon capture and utilisation technologies: Research and climate aspects. SAPEA Evidence Review Report No. 2. PDF ISBN 978-3-9819415-5-5; DOI 10.26356/CARBONCAPTURE; Print ISBN 978-3-9819415-4-8 ISSN 2568-4434. SAPEA, Science Advice for Policy by European Academies, 2018.

Maria da Graça Carvalho
Scientific Advice Mechanism (SAM) Unit, DG Research and Innovation, European Commission

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