Aug 8 (Reuters) - Forest and farmland together cover more
than three quarters of EU territory, but their role in capturing
and releasing carbon emissions is not fully documented.
Proposals to tighten the way emissions from agricultural and
forest land are calculated will be debated over the coming
months in Brussels.
The following outlines the situation so far.
WHAT IS BIOMASS?
Biomass-based fuel is the oldest source of consumer energy
known to mankind and the largest source of EU renewable energy.
It comprises renewable organic matter, such as wood,
agricultural crops and agricultural and municipal waste. The
most commonly used form is wood pellets, which include pellets
for residential and industrial use, and are relatively easy to
In the first instance, pellets are made of by-products, such
as saw dust and shavings, but as demand outstrips supply,
nations have had to seek other sources of woody feedstock.
Woody biomass pellets have the potential to become a
tradeable commodity, like other forms of fuel, but so far they
carry large risks, are not transparent and standards vary.
As a step towards global biomass trading, Dutch-based energy
exchange APX-ENDEX in November last year launched the first
Utilities are keen for standardisation.
Denmark's Dong Energy "calls for the urgent
development of common European sustainability criteria, which
cover the origin, production and consumption of solid biomass
for energy," a spokesman said.
For now, Dong mainly imports wood pellets from other EU
countries, but anticipates importing from outside the EU as
EUROPE IS THE BIGGEST USER
The demand for biomass pellets in Europe has increased
rapidly, accelerated by the agreement of a 2020 target to raise
the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20 percent.
Biomass is expected to account for about half of the
renewables share and has the benefit of helping to provide
reliable baseload power. Wind and solar, in contrast, are
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted the
European Union is likely to remain the largest wood pellet
consumer in the world.
It said EU demand could range between 20 million and 50
million tonnes by 2020, depending on factors such as the price
of heating oil and national policies on co-fired power
East Asia is also expected to show very strong growth and
may be "a close second" in 2020, the IEA said.
Rising demand in the European Union has stimulated large
investments in new pellet plants and increased production in
nations including Canada, Russia and the United States.
Russia, already a fossil fuel energy giant, has the largest
forest area. It constitutes around 20 percent of the world's
Within the EU, the Polish pellets market only began in 2003,
the IEA said, but its rate of growth is rapid.
Production has been mostly exported, but domestic production
is rising as woody biomass replaces some of Poland's predominant
NEED FOR IMPORTS?
Between 2008 and 2010 the production of wood pellets in EU
increased by 20.5 percent, reaching 9.2 million tonnes in 2010 -
or 61 percent of global production - figures from IEA Bioenergy
In the same period, EU wood pellet consumption increased by
43.5 percent to reach over 11.4 million tonnes in 2010, equal to
nearly 85 percent of the global wood pellet demand.
The European pellet industry still covered 81 percent of the
EU demand in 2010, but the gap between production and
consumption in EU has been growing rapidly.
IMPACT ON FORESTS
Since the 1990s, the forest area in Europe has been
However, environmentalists say that is a short-term view and
are worried biomass for energy could wipe out swathes of the
world's forests. Where forests survive, they warn old trees are
replaced with saplings, which have less value as a carbon store,
and the variety of planting is not maintained.
"Compared to the over-cut we have done for centuries ... the
balance is still that we take out wood quicker than the carbon
is replenished," said Jutta Kill, carbon trading and climate
change campaigner at non-governmental organisation FERN.
(Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Alison Birrane)