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EU leaks biomass sustainability rules

canadian_forests_biomassAugust 20, 2013, Brussels - The European Commission will seek to introduce EU-wide binding sustainability criteria for solid and gaseous biomass, according to a leaked draft of the directive proposals, but a date for its publication has still not been set despite market stakeholders waiting more than two years for the announcement.


August 20, 2013
By Scott Jamieson


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The commission is set to propose an EU-wide requirement of 60pc greenhouse gas (GHG) savings for solid and gaseous biomass used in electricity and heating and cooling sectors, applied to biomass installations of equal or above 1MW electrical or 2.5MW thermal capacity.

“In the absence of additional action at EU-level there was a significant risk that member states would establish a multitude of potentially different national sustainability criteria and schemes, thus affecting biomass trade and the functioning of the internal market, which would in turn have a negative impact on future biomass development,” the draft proposal states. “It is therefore necessary to introduce EU-wide sustainability criteria for solid and gaseous biomass used in the electricity and heating and cooling sectors, in order to ensure the functioning of the energy market, to facilitate biomass trade both within the EU and with third countries, and to avoid unintended sustainability impacts while maximising GHG savings.”

The minimum GHG savings of 60pc compared with fossil fuels aims at ensuring optimal performance through technology innovation and efficient production and use of biomass in the energy sector. The commission further seeks to discourage investments in installations with low GHG performance benefits.

The commission stresses the need to avoid potential unintended effects of increased biomass use for energy, while ensuring existing investments are guaranteed.

“Compliance with EU sustainability criteria is required for solid and gaseous biomass in order to be counted towards the targets in the Renewable Energy Directive and to qualify for inclusion in public support schemes,” the commission says in its draft proposal.

Carbon accounting
The draft directive, if adopted in its current form by the European Parliament and member states, sets a definition of a harmonised carbon accounting methodology as well as default values for different biomass production pathways, which has been a source of controversy among industry critics and stakeholders in recent months.

Emissions must be calculated — or default values used — for all stages of the supply and conversion chain, including emissions from the extraction or cultivation of raw materials, annualised emissions from carbon stock changes caused by land use change, emissions from processing, transport and distribution, and emissions from the fuel in use during combustion.

In addition, emissions savings from soil carbon accumulation via improved agricultural management, emission savings from carbon capture and geological storage and emissions savings from carbon capture and replacement are also taken into consideration in the proposed GHG methodology.

The proposals also include land criteria, which would seek to avoid raw material production in areas with high biodiversity values as well as "undesirable" land use change. In addition, forestry biomass would have to be sourced only from "sustainably managed forests", according to international principles and criteria.

Despite industry support, including that of European biomass association Aebiom for binding biomass requirements, EU-wide criteria remain contentious especially with central and eastern European member states.

This may make adopting the directive as EU law difficult before the parliament breaks up for elections in May 2014. Should the proposals be adopted as a European directive, the directive will come into force on the 20th day following its entry into the official journal of the EU.

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