Interview with Tim McPhie, (European Commission spokesperson service) to questions related to the use of biomass in the Renewable Energy Directive
Is wood a form of renewable energy from the perspective of the European Commission?
Biomass from forestry, agriculture and organic waste is the main source of renewable energy in the EU, accounting for over 10% of the EU’s final energy consumption and about 60% of its renewable energy consumption. Woody biomass is considered a form of renewable energy provided that it fulfils the sustainability criteria set out in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED II). Operators of biomass power stations must follow a risk-based approach to minimise the likelihood of using unsustainable forest biomass for the production of bioenergy, whether it originates in the EU or a non-EU countries. To reduce the potential environmental impact of using woody biomass to produce energy, the Commission has proposed to further strengthen the sustainability criteria in its proposal to amend RED II, made in July 2021 (the RED III proposal).
According to a Joint Research Centre (JRC) publication, the global production of wood pellets reached 29 million tonnes in 2016, of which more than 50% was produced in the EU. What factors have determined the use of forest biomass in RED II?
The support provided in RED II for all types of renewables, including bioenergy, has certainly increased demand for bioenergy in the EU.
Is using wood as a form of renewable energy sustainable in the long term?
The use of bioenergy can and should be sustainable. This is exactly why the RED II framework was put in place. With a stringent application of the sustainability criteria, woody biomass can be part of the solution to mitigate climate change. The EU’s climate and energy policies for the period after 2020 have significantly reinforced sustainability safeguards for bioenergy. RED II has introduced mandatory sustainability criteria for large-scale use of solid biomass and biogas in heat and power for the first time. It also includes a new set of sustainable harvesting criteria for forest biomass and minimum life cycle emission saving requirements.
In the RED III proposal, the EU further strengthens its bioenergy sustainability criteria, in line with the greater climate and biodiversity ambitions of the European Green Deal. It also stipulates that the Member States must design any support schemes for bioenergy in a way that respects the cascading principle of uses for woody biomass. These new measures will thus further ensure the sustainability of forest biomass used for energy production in the EU. They will also promote a more resource-efficient use of biomass, minimising the risk of high-quality roundwood being diverted away from high-value uses, such as construction or furniture making.
EU economy and society to meet climate ambitions (europa.eu) (press release of July 2021)
Q&A – Making our energy system fit for our climate targets (europa.eu)
Several JRC researchers, along with scientists from the European Environment Agency, have stated that burning wood has a larger impact on the environment than burning fossil fuels. With this in mind, why do you think that the EU institutions promoted the idea of using wood as a form of renewable energy in 2009?
There are different opinions among scientists on this question. The Commission based its analyses on the most recent JRC report on the use of woody biomass from 2021, which outlines the conditions under which the use of woody biomass for energy can be considered as positive or negative for the environment.
Does using forest bioenergy mitigate climate change?
Biomass is a versatile energy source that can help replace fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal in the heating, electricity and transport sectors. That being said, it must be used and produced in a sustainable way.