European Court of Justice Rules in Favor of Biomass

The European Court of Justice dismissed a case against wood biomass of individuals and NGOs from six countries (Case T-141/19). According to the court the case lacked standing to challenge the EU’s inclusion of forest biomass in the bloc’s Renewable Energy Directive.  

Plaintiffs from Estonia, France, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia and the US brought up claims that the EU’s biomass policy is destroying forests and increases greenhouse gas emissions. They argued the treatment of biomass as carbon neutral runs counter to scientific findings. According to the plaintiffs, burning wood for energy typically emits 1.5 times more CO2 than coal and 3 times more than natural gas. Whereas the general understanding is that wood biomass emitts only 25% of CO2 in comparison to fossil fuels (CO2 emissions from processing woody biomass).

Biomass makes up 60% of Europe’s renewable energies and is a vital contribution to the green goals.

The court described that arguments had no merit, since the contested directive “applies to all persons, both natural and legal. The applicants do not put forward any factor recognised by case-law which would be capable of distinguishing them individually as addressees.” The plaintiffs acknowledged that the environmental protection “affects everyone in both current and future generations”. However, they did not argue how the directive sets them apart as natural and legal persons and infringes upon their rights as such.

The decision was welcomed by biomass association from both sides of the Atlantic. “Although this was a procedural ruling this was the right overall result, as the arguments put forward in the case had no value. The European institutions carried out an open consultation to gather scientific and environmental advice and considered these during the legislative process. The result was a revised Renewable Energy Directive that set out rigorous standards for the inclusion of sustainable biomass in the European energy mix,” USIPA executive director Seth Ginther commented the decision.

Biomass’ Role in Europe’s Green Deal

This is the content from my article in the Pellet Mill Magazine published March 24th 2020.

Along with the Green Deal, the European Commission announced a very ambitious goal: Climate Neutrality by 2050.

Along with the Green Deal, the European Commission announced a very ambitious goal: Climate Neutrality by 2050. A Just Transition Fund of up to 100 trillion euro will help companies become world leaders in clean products and technologies, ensuring a just and inclusive transition, while protecting humans, animals and plants by cutting pollution. But what role does biomass play in the future of Europe’s renewable energy policy, and how can pellet producers influence their future involvement?
The European Commission introduced the European Green Deal in December 2019. The EGD is a roadmap of key policies and measures aimed at answering the call for action in regard to climate change. It is part of the commission’s strategy to realize the United Nation’s 2030 Agenda. Climate neutrality in the context of EGD means no net emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050, and the decoupling of economic growth from use of resources. The elements of the EGD span from accelerating the shift to sustainable and smart mobility to zero pollution. This includes clean, affordable energy with a risk-free baseload of renewable energies, energy efficient heating and cooling, and sustainable materials management (circular economy). To improve the quality of life, the EGD includes the goal of a healthy and environmentally friendly food system.

Figure 1 Elements of the EGD, Communication from the European Commission Dec. 2019

As an integral component to reach the ambitious goals, the European Commission will implement a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, including a “Just Transition Fund.” The fund’s mechanism is to align and minimize the negative effects of structural changes, especially befitting regions that strongly rely on fossil fuels and carbon-intensive processes, as they will be aided in reskilling programs and energy-efficient housing, and also receive support for low-carbon activities.

Financing of the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan is still unclear

The European Commission places its trust in the private sector as a key financier of the green transition. The European funds will lay the foundations for sustainable investments, facilitating the identification of sustainable investment opportunities and integrating climate risks into the financial system. This offers opportunities, especially for large renewable energies corporations, since the bureaucratic efforts to receive grants are substantial and might scare off small- and medium-sized companies. On the other hand, large providers are the ones able to deliver guaranteed base loads.

Europe’s bioeconomy in numbers

The European Commission’s Knowledge Center for Bioeconomy acknowledges that biomass energy is one of the main sources of renewable energy in the EU. In total, renewable energies contributed 17% (195,476 oil equivalent kilotons) of the EU’s gross energy consumption for 2016. Bioenergy contributed 59.2% thereof (12% transport fuels, 13.4% bioelectricity and 74.6% biomass). Although EU domestic biomass supply for primary energy reached 140 MTOE (million metric tons of oil equivalent) in 2016 and is planned to reach 178 MTOE by 2020, growth has been much slower than foreseen. Additionally, there are knowledge gaps in statistics, reporting and data collection on biomass supply, trade and use.

According to the Statistical Report 2019 of Bioenergy Europe, in 2016, bioelectricity accounted for 5.6% of EU’s gross electricity generation. Renewable biofuels for transportation had a market share of approximately 5%. Biomass for heating and cooling reached around 23%. Thereof, residential heating accounted for 50% of the final bioheat consumption. Finally, wood pellet consumption reached 27 million tons in the EU in 2018, 16.8 million tons of which were used for heating.

The European bioenergy landscape is diverse and scattered. Some countries suffer turf wars of industry associations or lack strategy. Compared to fossil fuels, renewables are still a small player in the market and have enormous growth potential. If the European Commission achieves one thing with the EGD, it will be sending an impulse to the markets to focus on renewables and step up efforts to grow these industries and overcome the sometimes very slow development process (e.g., the German onshore and offshore wind power industry). Associations need to align their energy and improve their educational portfolio for politicians. In 2020, the European Commission and other bodies will be busy reviewing and revising relevant energy legislation, especially clean, affordable and secure energy. The European Commission will conclude its assessment of the final National Energy and Climate Plans by June, in addition to setting a strategy for smart sector integration, renovating the building sector and determining other energy regulations. This is an unmatched opportunity for associations and corporations to bring in their expertise, ideas and demands and leave a remarkable footprint in Europe’s future renewable energy policy.

Pellet Mill Magazine Article

Germany’s Carbon Mitigation Plan With Biomass

This is the content from my article in the Pellet Mill Magazine published Dec. 11th 2019.

The potential of combined-heat-and-power plants, especially with organic Rankine cycle, can turn the tides in favor of biomass as a key part of Germany’s energy transition.

The German Renewable Energy Act (EEG) of 2000 succeeded in boosting development of renewable energy such as solar and wind power. The feed-in tariffs guaranteed a fixed income for electricity producers, thus attracting investors, and helped the industries grow exponentially. In late September, Germany published the new Climate Package. The goal is a reduction in CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 2009, and by 55% by 2030. With such ambitious targets, it might be assumed that Germany implemented a biomass cofiring strategy, too. However, that’s not the case.

While other European countries such as the U.K., Netherlands, Belgium and Denmark subsidize cofiring, Germany is lacking feed-in tariffs for wood pellets and other biomass in coal plants.
Additionally, the CO2 price (EUA-Future)—an important lever for substituting fossil fuels with renewable energies—averaged the past 12 months at approximately 25 euros per ton (EUR/t). Experts point out the price for CO2 certificates should range between 50 and 130 EUR to be effective. The German Climate Package, however, sets the price at 10 EUR/t from 2021, with a systematic increase to 35 EUR/t by 2025. Unfortunately, this strategy does not support cofiring of biomass in coal power plants at all. If it did, demand would be substantial: At a cofiring ratio of 10%, Germany’s demand for wood pellets would exceed 7 million tons annually.

CO2 Mitigation Potential is Considerable
There is another problem. In 2012, about 150 plants globally operated using cofiring to reduce CO2 emissions, 30 of them in Germany. Yet, only 13 biomass power plants operated permanently, mainly with sewage sludge and waste materials. At the same time, the efficiency of conventional, subcritical pulverized coal-fired power plants was 36%, state-of-the-art coal power plants had an efficiency of 46%, and biomass power plants 25%.

Since 2012, the efficiency of biomass-fired power plants has improved from 25% to 36%, whereas state-of-the-art coal-fired power plants average 49% efficiency. Cofiring wood chips and wood pellets leads to a slight decrease in efficiency. Nevertheless, using torrefied biomass does not lead to an efficiency decrease, as it has comparable properties to coal. The main advantage of cofiring biomass is that it leads to up to 50% reduction in CO2 (7% with wood chips, 36% with industrial wood pellets and 50% with torrefied biomass). However, the total cost of cofiring significantly differs.

Table 1 Characteristics of biomass for co-firing

Cofiring wood chips leads to the lowest CO2 mitigation costs, but the investment costs for retrofitting a coal plant are substantial, the cofiring rate is limited, and thus, the overall CO2 mitigation potential is limited. Torrefied biomass, on the other hand, has a high cofiring rate and low retrofit investments. But due to high fuel prices and transportation costs, CO2 mitigation costs are substantial. Therefore, use of industrial wood pellets seems to be the most advantageous option, though all three cofiring options require subsidies or a higher CO2 certificate price.

Nothing New in Germany’s Biomass Power
The installed capacity and the actual electricity generation from biomass reflects the situation in Germany. In 2015, the installed biomass electricity capacity was 6,808 MW with an actual electricity production of 34,850 GWh (6.5% of total electricity production). In 2019, the installed capacity increased by 14% to 7,752 MW (with actual biomass electricity production in 2018 being 40,184 GWh, (7.45% of total electricity production). The share of biomass in Germany’s total electricity capacity did not substantially increase from 2015 (3.47%) to 2019 (3.48%) and remains marginal. (Federal Network Agency, SMARD, 2019.)

Figure 1 Installed capacity and actual electricity production in Germany. Smard.de
Figure 2 Total installed capacity and actual electricity production in Germany. Smard.de

Besides the missing EEG feed-in tariff and a low CO2 price, the most important barriers to cofiring biomass in Germany are the uncertain availability, a wrong interpretation of biomass in terms of energy use, and the already increased competition in the power market. With at least seven million tons of wood pellet demand when cofiring 10%, Germany’s risk of lack of supply is very high. Long-term contracts as seen in the U.K. could help de-risk the supply side. On the governmental side, there is a need for rethinking use of biomass in the power sector. Currently, cofiring biomass is led by waste and sewage sludge, and there are high licensing requirements. Biomass from wood chips and wood pellets would need to be treated differently than waste to reduce the licensing hurdles. Finally, German energy producers are still struggling with the nuclear power phase-out.

A study of Germany’s Energy Agency assumes that German coal plants could cofire up to 50% wood pellets without significant modifications to the existing equipment. Determined steps by German policymakers are necessary to benefit from CO2 mitigation potentials cofiring with biomass holds. The potential of combined-heat-and-power plants, especially with organic Rankine cycle, can turn the tides in favor of biomass as a key part of Germany’s energy transition.

Pellet Mill Magazine Article

References:

Lüschen, A. / Madler, R., Economics of Biomass Co-Firing in New Hard Coal Power Plants in Germany, FCN Working Paper No. 23/2010.

Knapp et al., Energy, Sustainability and Society (2019), https://doi.org/10.1186/s13705-019-0214-3

Roni et al., Biomass co-firing technology with policies, challenges, and opportunities: A global review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 78, 2017, p 1089 – 1101.

Hello Biomass Community!

Welcome to the Biomass Policy Blog. This is my first post, after

  • the WHO announced the Corona virus as a pandemic
  • the stock exchanges dropped dramatically
  • the United States announced a travel ban on Europe
  • the European Commission announced their European Green Deal

We have interesting times ahead…