Woody biomass role in EU 20% target for RE consumption and influences on pellets trade

How are the EU member states contributing to the 20% target for EU’s renewable energy consumption? Which role for woody biomass and how this influences pellets trade?

A recent paper by Proskurina et al. (Biomass & Bioenergy; http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biombioe.2016.09.016) discusses this interesting topic. Among the conclusions:

  • For countries that already reach their national biomass targets or have a difference less than 15%, woody biomass plays an important role for electricity generation and H&C sector, mostly for Finland and Austria.
    Finland, Romania, Austria and Sweden have a large biomass potential.
  • Countries whose biomass still needs to increase from 15% to 30% have a realistic likelihood of reaching their own local biomass targets. Denmark, Lithuania, Italy, Spain, Slovakia are likely to increase woody biomass use for heat and electricity production.

  • In countries whose required biomass share increase is more than 30%, France and the UK have huge domestic energy consumption, thus, the development of renewables in these countries is crucial. Belgium and the Netherlands have woody biomass demand higher than potential.

Reported trends can be compared with new data from Schipfer et al. (CEBC, 2017, here) presenting their report (here) about the International wood pellet trade for Small-scale heating in the EU. Further details concerning the global wood pellets industry (2017 update) here.

Operational excellence in biomass energy plants

Operations costs, in biomass energy plants, depend on input feedstock quality. To optimize operations and find economic optima, three preliminary steps could be considered.

1) Fuel costs [€/MWth], how do they vary depending on the fuel quality?

Fuel Such as Cost variation (average)
Easy Sawdust, whole tree chips 100%
Average Bark, stumps, forest residues 67%
Challenging Demolition wood, plywood residues 56%
Very challenging Agrofuels, SRF 44%

Note: figures, averaged for solid fuels (Europe).

2) O&M costs [€/y]: chemicals (~20%), electricity (~20%), maintenance (~60%), how do they vary depending on the fuel quality?

Fuel Such as Cost variation (average)
Easy Sawdust, whole tree chips 100%
Average Bark, stumps, forest residues 124%
Challenging Demolition wood, plywood residues 154%
Very challenging Agrofuels, SRF 194%

Note: Values averaged for thermal energy generation (50-500 MWth, fluidized beds boilers), including data from virtual.vtt.fi/virtual/combust.

3) Evaluate the economic feasibility balance including the reduction of fuel costs and the increased O&M costs for the specific installation.

As a summary, first, it is necessary to classify fuels according to operational risks (not a trivial task: even the same fuel type could be Easy/Average/Challenging/Very challenging depending on its origin and properties). It might be smart to use predictive analyses (e.g. BIOFACT-C) and previous return of experience.

Second, based on such 3-step preliminary analysis (and the technical constraint of the specific installation with its components), it is possible to assess with which new fuels it would be possible to operate the energy plant.

How do you perform your operational excellence analyses? Are you expanding the capabilities of your technologies? Any considerations is welcomed.

MWh from solid biomass in Europe (2000-2016): who produced the most?

According to the Renewable Electricity Capacity and Generation Statistics 2016 by the IRENA [1], in brief:

  • (2014) Germany, UK, Sweden, Poland and Italy are the first 5 countries ranked in terms of energy produced from solid renewable fuels
  • (2014) Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Austria and Belgium are the first 5 countries ranked in terms of energy produced from solid renewable fuels per million inhabitants
  • (2000-2015) In the last 15 years, Poland, Estonia, Hungary and UK invested the most in new capacity from solid renewable fuels (evidenced also in the variation in the total energy produced) with respect to the year 2000 (>10 times)
  • (2012-2015) At country level, in the last three years, a relative reduction in new capacity built is registered (according to the IRENA [1]) for Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria

All data available in [1], elaborated by the author.
[1] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), ‘Renewable Electricity Capacity and Generation Statistics 2016‘, data available at http://resourceirena.irena.org/, accessed 8/04/2017.

How bioenergy can boost solar and wind power expansion?

According to the recent book by Dr. D. ­Thrän, “Smart Bioenergy: technologies and concepts for a more flexible bioenergy provision in future energy systems” (2015), the currently developing energy system (in Germany, but more generally, in Europe) based on renewable energy sources, could be built on the following pillars:

  • solar and wind energy (heat and/or electricity);
  • balancing/residual power load, e.g. from biomass and waste;
  • upgrading/storage of excess energy with heat, gases/accumulators (batteries);
  • rely on system control solutions, e.g. grid stabilization and security;
  • bio-refineries for the production of refined fuels, for specific applications (i.e. heavy duty vehicles, ships and aviation) as a synergy with electric mobility, and for feedstock conversion to materials;
  • (renewable) heat provision (e.g. standalone CHPC units, co-generating heat, power and cold) for households, public buildings and industry.
Modified after Thrän, D. (Ed.) (2015): Smart Bioenergy. Technologies and concepts for a more flexible bioenergy provision in future energy systems. Heidelberg: Springer.

Among the contribution to such regional, distributed and interconnected energy system, solid biomass could play a significant role: for residual power balancing (e.g. flexible electricity generation from thermal conversion technologies) and heat/cold production in standalone applications.

For the development of such framework, a strategic question which arises is: “Which solid feedstock is suitable for which conversion technology?” If matching feedstock type and conversion technology with a simplified (and didactic) approach, the following scheme could be considered (r.t. reaction time; own elaboration).


As indicated in the proposed scheme, high hydrogen (H), oxygen (O) and nitrogen (N) to carbon contents in the fuel, identify the biological conversion technologies (with respect to thermochemical) as better suited options for the fuel conversion. Yet, the answer to this question is far from being comprehensive and it is rapidly evolving as the technological options develop. However, it seems clear the strategic interest of coupling the specific feedstock with the suitable technology, in order to efficiently valorise solid fuels in the modern, renewable based, energy system.