Assessing the effect of stricter sustainability criteria on EU biomass crop potential


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Correspondence to: Berien Elbersen, Alterra Wageningen UR, Wageningen, the Netherlands. E-mail:


This paper investigates how different sustainability criteria restrict the supply of cropped biomass sources within the EU. There are already mandatory sustainability criteria formulated in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) at EU level for biomass feedstocks to be used for conversion into biofuels. For solid and gaseous biomass feedstock, however, there are only recommendations formulated by the European Commission (EC) to be adopted on a voluntary basis by the EU member states (MS). This paper specifically focuses on the potential supply of biomass from crops for all bioenergy sectors when applying stricter sustainability criteria. These criteria relate to greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation targets, including indirect land-use change (iLUC) related GHG emissions, and the introduction of no-go areas, such as areas of high biodiversity value and high carbon stock. The results show that stricter criteria indeed reduce the cropping potential and change the crop mix significantly, as rotational arable crops for biofuels do no longer comply with the stricter mitigation criteria. This is because they usually compete with food and feed crops for higher quality land requiring a compensation for iLUC emissions. The stricter sustainability criteria can only be applied successfully if they are accompanied by a change in demand, in particular for lignocellulosic biomass for advanced biofuels and other bioenergy uses. Without stimulation of such pathways, it will be difficult to realize improved sustainability in the bio-energy sector. © 2013 Society of Chemical Industry and John Wiley & Sons, Ltd