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Biomass Action Plan

In the face of Europe’s increasing dependency on fossil fuels, using biomass is one of the key ways of ensuring the security of supply and sustainable energy in Europe. This communication sets out a series of Community actions aimed in particular at increasing the demand for biomass, improving supply, overcoming technical barriers and developing research.

ACT

Communication from the Commission of 7 December 2005 – Biomass Action Plan [COM(2005) 628 final – Official Journal C 49 of 28.02.2005].

SUMMARY

To cope with the increasing dependence on imported energy, the European Union (EU) must bring into play a new energy policy, the three main objectives of which are competitiveness, sustainable development and security of supply.

It is in this wider context of an integrated and coherent energy policy and, in particular, of promoting renewable energy sources that the Commission is presenting this Biomass Action Plan.

Biomass

Biomass, i.e. all organic plant and animal products used to produce energy (or in agriculture), currently accounts for around half (44 to 65%) of all renewable energy used in the EU.

Biomass currently meets 4% of the EU’s energy needs (69 million tonnes of oil equivalent (toe)). The aim is to increase biomass use to around 150 million toe by 2010.

An increase of this magnitude could bring such benefits as:

  • diversifying Europe’s energy supply;
  • significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions * (209 million tonnes);
  • direct employment for 250 to 300 000 people;
  • potentially lowering the price of oil as a result of lower demand.

It is important to note that these benefits can probably be obtained without additional pollution or other forms of environmental damage.

The predicted cost of expenditure linked to renewable energy is estimated at EUR 9 billion per year.

The Commission identifies three sectors in which biomass use should be prioritised, namely heat production, electricity production and transport.

Biomass for heating

Heating is without a doubt the sector which uses the most biomass, and does so simply and cheaply in terms of technology. However, paradoxically, biomass is growing slowest in this sector.

The Commission plans to use various measures to improve this situation, including:

However, it appears that renewable fuels are more suited for use in district heating * than individual heating. Their use should therefore be promoted by making them more competitive, cost-effective and convenient to use.

Electricity from biomass

The Commission points out that there are many ways of generating electricity from renewable energy sources. Attention should focus on the Directive on electricity from renewable energy sources in this area.

Using biofuels in transport

As with electricity production, the transport sector is also governed by Community legislation in the form of the Directive on biofuels for transport.

In accordance with this Directive, the Commission plans to present a report in 2006 on the implementation of the Directive, with a view to a possible revision. It will address the issues of:

  • national targets for the market share of biofuels;
  • the obligation to use biofuels;
  • implementing a system to certify conformity with biofuels standards.

The Commission is set to put forward a legislative proposal for the vehicle market aimed at encouraging public procurement of clean vehicles. The future strategy on the car industry, which should be published in 2006, provides for various measures concerning:

  • the use of biofuels;
  • establishing tax incentives;
  • providing consumer information;
  • reducing congestion.

In terms of balancing domestic production and imports of biofuels, the Commission’s approach is to:

  • propose the amendment of standard EN14214 to facilitate the use of a wider range of vegetable oils for biodiesel *, to the extent feasible without significant ill-effects on fuel performance;
  • address the issue of amending the biofuels directive so that only biofuels whose cultivation complies with minimum sustainability standards count towards its targets;
  • maintain market access conditions for imported bioethanol * that are no less favourable than those provided by the trade agreements currently in force;
  • pursue a balanced approach in ongoing free trade agreement negotiations with ethanol-producing countries/regions;
  • support developing countries that wish to produce biofuels and develop their domestic markets;

In terms of standards, the Commission is currently re-examining two areas of the fuel quality directive;

  • impact on health and the environment;
  • impact on the achievement of the objectives in the biofuels directive and the cost of achieving them.

The Commission also plans to remove unjustified or discriminatory technical barriers to using biofuels.

Lastly, as Europe is better at producing bioethanol than biodiesel, the Commission will encourage the use of ethanol (in place of methanol *) to reduce demand for diesel.

Stimulating biomass supply

In terms of agriculture, the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) introduced a special “aid for energy crops”. In 2006 the Commission will evaluate the implementation of this and, if necessary, will put forward proposals reflecting the Union’s objectives in terms of biofuels. In addition to this the Commission will fund an information campaign on the priorities for energy crops and the prospects for exploiting them.

Statistics for forestry * show that around 35% of the annual growth in EU forests remains unused. To address this, the Commission is currently preparing an action plan, which should be adopted in 2006. The plan will, in particular, examine the matter of generating electricity from wood. The Commission will also review the impact of the energy use of wood and wood residues on forest-based industries.

Waste is also an underused energy resource. For this reason the Commission is currently developing a thematic strategy on preventing and recycling waste, and is preparing a proposal on the revision of the waste framework legislation.

Animal by-products not destined for human consumption are increasingly being recovered for energy. Consequently, the Commission plans to review the regulatory framework governing such production processes, so that new sources of energy may be opened up while maintaining current levels of protection for public and animal health.

The Commission is also paying particular attention to the adoption of European standards for solid biomass fuels in order to facilitate trade, develop markets and increase consumer confidence. The European Committee for Standardisation is working to define these standards.

Regarding supply, a European trading floor for pellets and chips has been initiated with support from the EU Intelligent Energy for Europe programme (2003-2006). The Commission will also look at how the results can be improved, with a view to possibly establishing a Community-wide trading system.

Lastly, action plans making it easier to evaluate biomass at various levels (physical and economic availability, priorities for use, measures to be taken, etc.) are encouraged by the Commission both at national and regional level.

Financing biomass

Supporting the development of renewable and alternative energy sources is a key objective for the structural and cohesion funds. The EU and the Member States must therefore promote the development of renewable energy sources through regional policy.

The Commission also points out that support for biomass production and use must comply with Community state aid policy.

Biomass and research

The Commission’s proposal for the Seventh Framework Programme gives a high priority to biomass research.

The Commission plans in particular to look at how best to take forward research into the optimisation of agricultural and woody crops for energy purposes, and into conversion processes.

Lastly, through the Intelligent energy for Europe programme (2007-2013), the Commission will support the dissemination of techniques that reflect European objectives for renewable energy.

Background

This Biomass Action Plan is part of the new EU energy policy set out in the Green Paper on energy published in March 2006. Most of the recommendations it contains were supported by EU Heads of State or Government at the spring European Council of 23 and 24 March 2006. Developing safe, competitive and sustainable energy is therefore one of the EU’s priorities in relaunching the Lisbon Strategy.

Key terms used in the act
  • The main greenhouse gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide and ozone (O3).
  • District heating: collective heat distribution equipment for heat generated in the form of vapour or hot water by several production units.
  • Biodiesel: fuel obtained from vegetable or animal oil which has been transformed through a chemical process called transesterification.
  • Bioethanol: biofuel for use in petrol engines. Plants which contain saccharose (beetroots, sugar cane, etc.) or starch (wheat, maize, etc.) can be transformed to produce bioethanol. This is obtained by fermenting the sugar extract of sugary plants or by distilling starch from wheat or maize.
  • Methanol: methanol is also known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol and its chemical formula is CH3OH. It is the simplest form of alcohol and is highly toxic. It is a light, volatile, transparent and inflammable liquid which is used as anti-freeze, a solvent, as fuel (in the North American Champcar world series since 1964), and to denature ethyl alcohol.
  • Forestry: this covers all practices by which goods are produced from forests in a reasonable and sustainable way.

RELATED ACTS

Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament – The Renewable Energy Progress Report: Commission Report in accordance with Article 3 of Directive 2001/77/EC, Article 4(2) of Directive 2003/30/EC, and on the implementation of the EU Biomass Action Plan, COM(2005) 628 [ COM(2009) 192 final – Not published in the Official Journal].
This Report describes the progress made in the field of renewable energy. In the electricity sector, in particular, the renewable energy share has increased in some Member States. In addition, the transport sector has seen its renewable energy share increase by 1.6 points since 2004. In spite of this positive trend, the European Union is likely to fail to meet its 2010 renewable energy targets. It is therefore essential that the European Commission should continue to encourage Member States to apply the existing legislation and if necessary to initiate infringement proceedings in order to make further progress towards achieving these objectives.

Communication from the Commission of 19 October 2006 - Action Plan for Energy Efficiency: Realising the Potential [COM(2006) 545 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Communication from the Commission of 26 May 2005 to the Council and the European Parliament, “The share of renewable energy in the EU” [COM(2004) 366 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Last updated: 02.10.2009
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