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Eubia August 2013
Jul
31

BioenNW – A valuable model for local biomass supply chain development in European regions

For many years EUBIA has supported ETA-Florence in the organization of the international European Biomass Conference and Exhibition. The conference deals with the most recent developments and concerns relating to biomass and bioenergy development throughout Europe and worldwide.

The location of EU BC&E 2013 was the Bella Center in Copenhagen. Denmark is one of the most developed countries in terms of bioenergy and renewable energy production in Europe and so was an ideal location for this year’s event. In particular, Denmark is famous for its large bioenergy centralized power plants where hundreds of thousands of tons of different types of biomass are processed for green electricity generation.

For many years, the most widely used biomass in Europe in large size power plants has been wood. Woody biomass is co-fired with coal, or 100% fired in biomass boilers to produce electricity, and directly delivered to end users. On one hand woody biomass is expensive, limited, and takes time to grow (especially large size trunks from forests). On the other hand, the demand is rapidly growing (from 12 MMT of pellets in 2011 to 80 MMT in 2020. (Source: EREC 2012).

The EU bioenergy market is destined to reach a value of €70 billion in the next 23 years (2012-2035). This volume can’t be represented by only high quality wood (Source: Emerging – energy, May 2012). Agricultural residues like straw, pruning residues, grass, and manure produced by small local farmers, represent the potential of biomass in Europe; a general strategy for new efficient supply chain must be defined soon.  This fundamental challenge was heavily discussed at this year’s European Conference, with many speakers presenting initiatives and projects focused on this topic.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance 2011 assumes that from 1.2 billion tonnes of residues available, 75% will be returned to the field to protect soil quality; while 7.5% will go towards biopower production and animal husbandry; with the remaining 17.5% being made available for bioproduct conversion.

The BioenNW project, which took a stand at EU BC&E 2013 to raise awareness of the project’s work, is aligned closely to this European challenge and could be positioned as a model to export to other European interregional areas: a new strategy for biomass and bioenergy local supply chain must be defined.

In many EU countries, biomass development has been focused on large scale plant for electricity production or centralized solid biomass boilers for district heating. North West Europe is one of the most developed areas in terms of co-firing and biomass power generation technology. However, there is a general consensus that EU countries should push towards a more diversified biomass supply chain, focused on the valorization of agricultural residues, biomass wastes and decentralized units to produce heat, electricity, or biofuels at a local level. To do this, a detailed strategy must be developed with the most appropriate technologies for local biomass valorization plus increased public awareness. Creating a new supply chain strategy is a priority for BioenNW and must include every step of the supply chain: harvesting/collecting – transportation – trading – storage – processing –  end users

There are two main reasons to see BioenNW as a model for other local initiatives in Europe:

  1. The development of new technologies for a more efficient biomass waste valorization
  2. The creation of local Bioenergy Support Centres to inform investors, organization, business, authorities and other key influencers about biomass energy and market potential.

The first point is of great importance. The agricultural residues often do not present a valuable compound and their quality can be low compared to the woody biomass. Different biomass plants, as well as different parts of the same plant, do not have the same physical composition and chemical compound (leaves, stalks, branches). In addition, other liquid agricultural wastes – such as sludge and manure – need specific storage, processing and disposal systems. A new bioenergy process being championed by BioenNW combines anaerobic digestion and pyrolysis for digestate treatment, generates minimal waste, and allows different feedstocks to be used in the same process. This flexibility allows several small biomass volumes to be used in the same power plant to generate electricity, thus valorizing a product which would have been disposed after costly treating processes.

New technologies must be flanked by raising public awareness. The cooperation of land owners and farmers is fundamental for an efficient, cheap supply chain and can only be achieved if they are aware of the benefits they would receive. New technology is essential for rapid development but it wouldn’t be enough. Promotion at a local and regional level is required. The meeting of these two initiatives can indicate the right direction towards a promising bioenergy development in many European regions.

Words by Andrea Salimbeni, EUBIA Bioenergy Scientific Consultant
Eubia, Belgium