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Wasted: Europe's untapped resource

Published Wed, 2014.02.26 | By

Pete Harrison, Chris Malins, Stephanie Searle, Anil Baral, David Turley, Lucy Hopwood

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Summary

New addendum report: National case studies show potential for biofuels from wastes and residues in Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom

There is a substantial untapped resource available in Europe of unused cellulosic wastes and residues. The technology exists to convert these biomass resources into advanced biofuels, with the technical potential to substitute up to 16% of European road transport fuel by 2030 while delivering greenhouse gas savings of 60% or more.


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Key findings:

  • If all the wastes and residues that are sustainably available in the European Union were converted only to biofuels, this could supply 16 per cent of road transport fuel in 2030. (Technical potential).
  • If advanced biofuels from wastes and residues are sourced sustainably, they can deliver GHG savings well in excess of 60 per cent, even when taking a full lifecycle approach.
  • Safeguards would be needed to ensure this resource is developed sustainably, including sustainable land management practices that maintain carbon balances and safeguard biodiversity, water resources and soil functionality.
  • If this resource were utilized to its full technical potential, up to €15 billion of additional revenues would flow into the rural economy annually and up to 300,000 additional jobs would be created by 2030.
  • While some combinations of feedstock and technology will require short-term incentives, others are close to being competitive and require little more than policy certainty.

Europe could cut the carbon-intensity of transport fuels, reduce spending on oil imports and boost the rural economy by developing sustainable advanced biofuels from wastes and residues.

There are currently concerns that wastes and residues are available in insufficient quantities to make a meaningful or cost-effective contribution to fuelling transport. This in-depth analysis concludes that advanced biofuels from wastes and residues, if mobilized in a sustainable manner, can make a sizeable contribution to reducing European dependence on imported oil.

This study starts with a precautionary approach and only focuses on wastes and residues that were viewed by all project partners as sustainable. The main conclusion is that if all the sustainably available resources were converted only to road transport fuel, the technical potential could equal 16 per cent of demand in 2030. Commercializing this resource could also create hundreds of thousands of jobs, both in building and operating refineries and in collecting the resources to feed them. Meanwhile, the potential CO2 savings range from 60 to 85 percent in most cases, making a significant contribution to EU climate goals.

Addendum: national case studies

16 February 2015

The amount of sustainable cellulosic wastes and residues in EU countries that is available for biofuel is estimated as the quantity of each feedstock left over after environmental concerns and existing uses are taken into account. In all calculations, national-level data is used where available. For agricultural and forestry residues, some amount of material should be left on site under sustainable harvesting practices to protect against soil erosion and soil carbon loss. Some agricultural residues have other existing uses, including livestock bedding and feed, mushroom cultivation, and horticultural uses, and should not be considered available for biofuel. Some of these residues are also already collected to generate heat, electricity, and biogas – this resource could potentially be considered available if the use of wastes and residues in biofuel is prioritized over other energy production. Waste availability includes biogenic fractions that are not recycled or composted; as with agricultural and forestry residues, waste that is currently used to produce heat, power or biogas could potentially be considered sustainably available. The addendum finds that all the countries considered generate enough waste and residue feedstock to more than meet a hypothetical 1.25% target for transport energy from cellulosic biofuels. Download the report here

An article was also published in the journal Biomass and Bioenergy and can be accessed here (paywall).