AuthorEuropean Union Publications Office, 2006

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Overview: Major Fields of Research and Key Nations Involved

R&D Areas Crops to energy; biomass to fuels
State of Commercialisation Depends on technology application and biomass resources
Key Nations US, Sweden, Netherlands
Expected contributions to EU energy policy targets 8.5% of the total energy consumption in 2010; two-thirds of the renewable objective
EC policy backing RES-E Directive; Directive on the promotion of the use of biofuels97; Common Agriculture Policy (CAP); upcoming Cohesion Fund open to RES
Key Member States Sweden, Netherlands, Finland (accounting for ~56 % of Member State bioenergy RTD funding)

The leading renewable energy sources in the EU-25 are hydropower and biomass. Biomass is seen as one of the key options to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, meet Kyoto targets and replace fossil fuels. The current bioenergy share of primary energy demand in European Member States varies considerably: more than 20% in countries like Latvia and Finland, and close to 20% in Sweden.

Biomass is a highly diversified renewable source that comes in different forms: wood, straw, agricultural waste, grain, seeds, paper and cardboard, fats and oils etc. By transforming biomass into solid, liquid and gaseous products, a variety of end-use products like electricity, heat, gas, transport fuels and raw materials like biochemicals and building material can be produced. Several basic processes - combustion, gasification, pyrolysis, liquefaction (thermochemical processes), and fermentation (biological processes) - are feasible for transforming biomass into energy. Biomass can replace current, usually fossil, resources such as coal, oil and natural gas and, furthermore, can easily be stored long-term. Graph hereafter shows the bioenergy conversion pathway. With respect to security of supply, the worldwide availability of biomass is enormous.

This diversity and flexibility gives strategic importance to the use of biomass, not only for energy purposes but also for the production of raw materials for other industrial applications. In addition, the less developed regions of Europe will benefit most from the increasing implementation of bioenergy in the existing energy system.

All the individual steps in the chain from feedstock to end-user markets are the subject of research activities, which are also used out to study and understand the bioenergy conversion chain as a whole.

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Research Objectives in the EC, Member States and Third Countries

The EC RTD orientation in the field of bioenergy is focused on two strategic goals. Research activities with a short to medium term outlook aim at delivering a rapid and measurable contribution for running applications and existing markets. These technology areas (e.g. more efficient combustion/cogeneration and fuel production) are crucial to meeting EU targets, like those defined in the EU White Paper on Renewables, and to achieving Kyoto goals. Preconditions and options for biomass in a future sustainable energy system and the related technology options in possible transition paths are predominantly addressed in mid to long term research. Improved cost-effectiveness and other environmental benefits are guidelining both strategies, with the aim of improving operation and integration into energy markets. The technological areas of research in meeting these objectives comprise all the steps in the biomass conversion pathway. The current research fields are:

Bio-residues and energy crops

Identifying energy crops and agro-wastes best fitted to energy production, development of supply chain logistics, and development of separation and pre-treatment technology.

Conversion processes

Optimisation of reliable and cost-effective technologies for both small- and large-scale plants (combustion, gasification, pyrolysis etc.).

Bio refineries

Integrated conversion plants for biofuels and bio products.

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Use of biomass and co-utilisation with fossil fuels

Monitoring and control of combustion behaviour as well as emission, corrosion and other related problems.

Socio-economic and pre-normative research

Research to overcome barriers for an enhanced use of biomass as well as research activities linked to standardisation. This last issue was the subject of research in FP5 in the BIONORM project, which mainly addressed solid biofuels.

The BIONORM project ran from January 2002 to December 2004, with an overall budget of euros 5.7 M and is significant because it facilitated major improvements in technical specification and standardisation, generating 20 new technical specifications and standards. Furthermore, the integration of various countries from the NAS (Newly Associated States) ensured that the standardisation requirements of these countries were taken into consideration and their specific requirements met.

The objective of BIONORM was to provide the scientific background for the European standardisation process for solid biofuels. The focus of the project was the development of a quality assurance system for solid biofuels to support and extend the market. This system was based on extensive sampling and testing to improve existing procedures. The results of this project contributed directly to the work of CEN TC 335 - Solid Biofuels.

In physical/mechanical testing, guidelines were developed for experimental procedures as well as the respective data sheets for moisture content, bulk density, particle size distribution, durability and raw density determinations.

Factors considered most influential on fuel quality were identified, as well as measures providing confidence to customers and regulators. The basic procedure and structure of the draft standard to be developed was approved.

This kind of coordinated action is key to an area where, as the first surveys of Member State RTD activities in the FP6 ERA-NET bioenergy project show, "most countries are doing something of everything". In order to coordinate short to medium term research in Europe better, DG-TREN has launched the Biomass Action Plan98 (BAP) to support the strategic EU renewable energy goals for 2010 and propose specific actions that will facilitate achievement of these targets. The BAP covers the whole bioenergy sector, including biomass, agricultural and forestry residues, and the biodegradable fraction of various waste streams. It addresses all energy sectors, including heat/cold, power and transport biofuels. Stakeholders from industry, utilities, associations, NGOs and national governments and related DGs are involved. In particular, concerted efforts will be dedicated to promoting the precision of RTD targets in the Biofuels99 area.

Taking the whole landscape of research into bioenergy across Europe into account, the overall objectives with respect to technology development, cost reduction etc. are similar to EC-conducted research. Although in some countries bioenergy activities have a long history, with related structures and industry involved as well as feedstock available, one can observe considerable differences in RTD in terms of priority settings and the transition paths discussed or pursued. Some countries like Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Austria started the process of systematically defining and coordinating biomass research activities decades ago whereas other countries, like Germany and the UK as well as most of the new Member States, still have to accomplish that task.

In particular, in the Nordic countries the use of biomass has a long tradition. Biomass from forestry has always been a source, especially for heating purposes. Power generation and production of different fuels have been integrated step-by-step into comprehensive concepts and strategies.

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Sweden has one of the longest track records in bioenergy in Europe and the beginnings of industrial capabilities. Particular focal points are forest-based solid fuels and ethanol as a transport fuel100. Policy instruments like the green electricity certificate - which requires a mandatory share of RES electricity in electricity used - or the CO2 tax have strongly promoted the deployment of bioenergy in Sweden, because this is often the most cost-efficient form of RES.

In Finland101 bioenergy technology development is given high priority within overall Finnish energy R&D work. R&D funds are principally channelled through the ClimBus - Business Opportunities in Mitigating Climate Change - programme via the National Technology Agency of Finland, TEKES. The programme aims at developing products and services that are internationally top-class in cost-effectiveness in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the Netherlands biomass receives the second highest funding within the Dutch renewable research portfolio after solar PV. Research in biomass, as a focal point of the Dutch Energy Research Strategy102, is clustered into three subcategories: power generation, combined heat and power, and products and fuels.

Biomass is Poland's strong point and an asset. Forestry products and vegetal waste are abundant and the country has a 1.5 million ha potential for energy crops. Major research issues are pre-treatment of feedstock, combustion and co-generation, as well as gasification103.

The overall target of US biomass research activities is to bolster the security of supply. This goal is explicitly highlighted in the US Biomass Program as a way to reduce or even end dependence on foreign oil by creating a bioenergy industry. The Biomass Program104 aims to allocate its federal funding resources toward pre-commercial enabling technology development that can lay the groundwork for future commercialisation, without competing with or duplicating work in the private sector. The pre-commercial "core program R&D" and the respective technical goals fall into four main categories:

* Feedstock interface - addressing the lack of a sustainable supply of biomass.

* Sugar platform - addressing pre-treatment, enzymes, process integration, fractionation fundamentals, and advanced concepts.

* Thermochemical platform - ensuring compatibility between biomass gasification technologies and technologies currently used in the petroleum industry to produce fuels and chemicals.

* Products - addressing bio-based fuels for transportation, replacements for existing commodity chemicals, and efficient use of all residue streams (heat and power).

The fifth area of work is integrated bio-refineries, industry-led projects to integrate elements of the core programme R&D into commercially viable integrated bio-refineries.

The US Department of Energy and the US Department of Agriculture have carried out a coordinated research programme on technical topics of common interest.

The Japanese "Action Plan for the Reform and Creation of Economic Structures" in 1997 positioned new energy as one of the novel industrial sectors with future growth potential, and described programmes for encouraging development and growth in this sector. Japan considers PV, wind, biomass and fuel cells as new energies. Japan's RTD objectives in the biomass sector are embedded in a strategy aiming for the creation of a "Recycling-Oriented Society", the fostering of "New Strategic Industries" and the activation of agriculture, forestry, and rural communities.

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Emerging countries like Brazil, China and India are increasingly active in biomass research, both to satisfy fast-growing energy demands and to improve the efficiency and sustainability of supply.

Brazil has three significant economic and sustainable bioenergy activities: the production of bio-ethanol from sugar cane for transport, large-scale production of charcoal from wood, and herbal oil production for transport. Inefficient use of biomass residues holds potential for cooperative research between Brazil and EU.

China's 10th five-year plan has set ambitious targets in terms of increasing energy use efficiency, energy saving and increased use of renewable sources105. The main focus areas of research into biomass are power generation and liquid fuel conversion technology. The latter is, for instance, addressed in several RTD projects studying various conversion technologies with different feedstock, e.g. esterification of wild oil plants, hydrolysis, and others.

In India, biomass is available in large quantities in the form of agricultural, forestry and agro-industrial residues. About 46% of total energy consumption is estimated to be met from various biomass resources106. The Ministry of Non-conventional Energy Sources (MNES) has launched various programmes to promote the use of bioenergy. The National Programme on Biomass Power/Cogeneration aims at optimum utilisation of a variety of biomass materials by adopting technologies which include combustion, incineration and pyrolysis gasification. R&D is mainly focused on small applications promoting electrification schemes in rural areas.

Funding for Bioenergy
European Commission-Funded Research

There has been relative continuity in terms of the research agenda between FP5 and FP6107, though the weighting between the areas has changed. Research and demonstration projects on bioliquids, accounting for a good 40% of total EC bioenergy funding, and combustion/co-generation are getting special attention, whereas dedicated research on feedstock has decreased. A part of feedstock research is covered through integrated projects studying different stages in the conversion chain.

New highlights of FP6 will be the bio-refinery projects that are studying integrated concepts for the production of chemicals, other raw materials and upgraded fuels.

The importance of RTD for biomass for the European countries is expressed through a relatively stable amount of funding of about euros 74 M per year over the period 2000-2004. Together with EC funding, this adds up to an annual funding of around euros 103 M in Europe.

Research Funded at EU Country Level

Sweden has devoted more than 60% of its total renewable energy R&D spend to biomass research. Finland's current ClimBus programme runs for the 2004-2008 period: its total budget is estimated to exceed euros 70 M. In 2004-2005 the funding shares of public research projects were as follows: 45% for clean energy production and biofuels, 10% for business services, 14% for energy-efficient technologies, 4% for other greenhouse gases and 27% for future technologies and businesses108. The average annual budget for the 2000-2004 period was euros 7.4 M. In both Sweden and Finland the publicly allocated RTD funding in this area directly reflects the importance bioenergy has for the transition to a sustainable energy future. The Netherlands devoted nearly 36% of its yearly RTD funding for renewables to biomass during the period 2000-2004. In stark contrast, in Germany, bioenergy only received an 8.5% share of all RTD renewable funding in 2004, and even the designated doubling of RTD funding for biomass in the coming years will result in a share of only 12.5% because the total funding for all renewables is expected to increase.

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Research Funded at Third Country Level

Globally, the US provides by far the highest single R&D budget for bioenergy. For the US biomass programme 2003-2008, DoE has requested total funding of euros 286 M. It is planned to allocate resources to five technical areas: feedstock interface (euros44.4M), sugar platform (euros58.9M), thermochemical platform (euros53.8M), products (euros 15.1 M) and integrated bio-refineries (euros66.7M). The remainder of the budget (euros45.4M) is reserved for programme management.

Japan has dramatically increased its funding for biomass RTD from about euros 28 M in 2002 to a planned budget of more than euros 64 M in 2006. Two major RTD lines are being pursued:

* Use of organic waste and related technology development (like fluidised bed combustion, co-firing, pyrolysis), receiving euros 20.9 M.

* Field testing of regional biomass energy utilisation systems, receiving euros 43.2 M.

Funding data for the emerging countries was not available to any systematic extent.


Evaluation and Conclusions
Technology Focus

The following table shows the comparison of relative allocation of public funding to technological sub-areas within the biomass sector in the EC and other countries. The year used for the data is not at all times consistent, and the degree and breakdown of budget information differ from country to country. For these reasons, the data needs to be interpreted with a degree of care.

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In all countries active in bioenergy research, and in contrast to former research strategies, biomass is more clearly seen as an innovation sector not only related to energy and climatic issues but also to the task of creating new and alternative products in other industrial sectors. Combining higher-value products with higher-volume energy production, and employing any combination of conversion technologies, has the greatest potential for making fuels, chemicals, materials, and power from biomass competitive. This realisation underpins the bio-refinery concept.

The significant distinction between the RTD portfolios of the EC and the US can be seen in the degree of integration of technology research into one coherent concept, thereby focusing funding on the related technological and socio-economical RTD requirements.

The US Biomass Program describes in its conceptual framework all the barriers to be overcome at all levels, and defines the relationship between the sub-areas that need to be linked in order to achieve the targeted goal: to produce added value through the combined production of chemicals, raw materials and biofuels in bio-refineries. But, as money is a limited source in the US as well, this tight framework has led to a halt in research funding for shorter-term technologies, for example co-firing. The strategic role of biomass for security of supply in the US energy programme is underlined through the coordinated R&D efforts of DoE with the Department of Agriculture on genetically engineered crops, which could be a significant factor in establishing reliable feedstock supply, as well as an important export factor.

In contrast, the EU has not streamlined all research in one specific goal but is pursuing more diverse research requirements which are important to investigate to achieve improvements in individual areas such as liquid fuel production. Thus, consolidation of research results from different projects in a related field, as well as dissemination of outcome, remains a constant task in Europe for the stakeholders involved, all the more since most of the RTD activity is carried out independently by Member States. Concurrently, it should be noted that the knowledge base in Europe is confined to a limited number of countries, namely those that are most active in collaborative actions at the EU and IEA levels.

In terms of EU renewable energy and climate targets, the EC's research portfolio is coherent in setting short to mid term research priorities addressing focal points in the generation of electricity, heat and cold by combustion/ co-generation and the production of cost-effective biofuels via gasification, especially for transportation. Some European countries such as the Nordic nations, the Netherlands and Austria, which have developed dedicated energy strategies, have been setting RTD priorities very much in accordance with their feedstock availability, their related industrial structures and/or their competences and knowledge. Due to the mid-term absence of sufficient biomass resources, individual countries like the Netherlands are investigating sustainable biomass import streams, which is not a topic at EU level.

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As Japan is not an agriculture-intensive country, Japan is concentrating on technologies related to the utilization of organic waste such as fluidized bed combustion, co-firing, pyrolysis, etc.


The level of public RTD funding for bioenergy in Europe is a third higher than that of its main competitor, the US Not only because of the current emphasis on specific focal points, but also because of a long tradition in certain research areas, Europe is considered to have expertise in bio-diesel and bio-oil production as well as in combustion/co-generation. Nearly 30% of overall European public funding for bioenergy is provided by the EC as compared to about 15-20% in other renewable areas, which again confirms that RTD in bioenergy in most European countries is not receiving adequate attention. The US has the largest single country budget but, in reorienting its programme strategy towards the bio-refinery concept, formally supported areas (e.g. co-generation) are now lacking backing. Japanese funding for bioenergy RTD is at the same level as the EC but limited to certain technological aspects in the context of waste recycling.

Research and Technology Development

Despite some countries being very active, the use of bioenergy by most of the European countries is still random, and so is the research. Coordinated Action has been initiated in FP6 to network national programmes of bioenergy research, in order to improve cost-effectiveness and to ensure maximum research impact for this sector. The goal of ERA-NET Bioenergy is to strengthen national research programmes. It is expected that, through collaboration, the national programmes will produce higher-quality results while, through coordination, exchange of additional information will be promoted and duplication avoided.

But there is further need for concerted action between the EC and Member States, not only to support the transfer of existing knowledge and mature technologies within Europe and to ensure further technology development, but also to develop a common notion as to the role bioenergy should play in a future European energy system, in relation to other energy areas like solar or hydrogen for which visions have already been formulated. This task, which has to take into account varying conditions in the regions of Europe, as well as specific opportunities for an enhanced use of biomass, has to be met by the EC and Member States jointly. Otherwise there is concern that some regions in Europe will not profit from a European Research Area, and in particular will not benefit from additional socio-economic opportunities for intensified use of bioenergy, in terms of regional economic development and job creation.


[97] - Directive 2003/30/EC

[98] -

[99] - Compare with EU Biomass Action Plan

[100] - EC 2005 NNE Research in Europe. Country Reports, p. 236; STEM 2004. For details of the core of RTD areas in the field of bioenergy in Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands, please refer to Annex VII. 1

[101] -

[102] - SenterNovem 2004, p. 5ff

[103] - Grezegorz Wisniewski 2004

[104] - DoE 2004b, p. 6. For details of the core of the US RTD biomass program, please refer to Annex VII.2

[105] - Xinhe BAO 2005, Issues and Opportunities for international Collaboration in Energy Science and Technology: The Chinese Perspective. IEA AEGSET Workshop, Nov. 16, 2005, Oak Ridge

[106] - TERI 2001, Survey of renewable energy in India, New Delhi

[107] - For details of EC funding for bioenergy in FP5 and FP6, please refer to Annex VII.3

[108] - Jatta Jussila 2005

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