Renewable Energy Directive amendments and Bioenergy – important European Parliament vote next week

Next week there is a crucial vote in the European Parliament on amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). If the vote goes the wrong way it would have a major impact on the bioenergy industry across the world.

I have been commissioned by Drax Power Station to write an opinion piece in support of the entire bioenergy sector that will be distributed to the Brussels press next week. The intention is that this will be read by MEPs prior to the vote. I have circulated this amongst academics working in the field of bioenergy and got widespread support from across the world.

Here is the letter in full:

On the 17th January MEPs should vote to recognise the importance of bioenergy in meeting the EU’s renewable energy and climate change targets.

Amongst the renewable energy options bioenergy has unique potential to deliver significant benefits to society and the environment.

Bioenergy is one of the most affordable renewable energy technologies. It is available in solid, liquid and gaseous forms and can be used for power, heating and transport. Sources of bioenergy are plentiful and can bring wealth and jobs to rural areas across the world and enable profit to be derived from marginal land. Bioenergy projects can create markets for low value roundwood and residues and therefore reduce waste. Bioenergy fuels are indispensable in that they can be easily stored so when demand is high they can be mobilised as soon as they are required. As a result of all this, bioenergy can meet needs not readily met by other renewables and provide grid stability on cloudy or windless days.

To be a positive part of an integrated approach to tackling climate change bioenergy feedstocks should be obtained from sustainable sources and not lead to the destruction of primary forest or land designated for nature protection. The production pathway for bioenergy fuels needs to be able to meet strict greenhouse emissions thresholds compared to fossil fuels to ensure that tangible carbon reduction is achieved. Stringent air quality standards must be adopted, implemented and regulated to ensure that any adverse effects to human health are minimised and bad practice is eliminated. More trees and perennial energy crops need to be planted than harvested in order to guard against any potential carbon debt, a scenario in which things get worse before they get better.

The amendments to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) adopted by the Environment Committee reinforce the requirement for a productive, sustainable and well-regulated bioenergy industry. The amendments seek to raise the bar and present bioenergy sustainability with even greater importance. Even in advance of the RED amendments Governments across Europe and industry bodies are already adopting more stringent approaches that ensure that there is greater traceability, accuracy, transparency and reliability in bioenergy reporting.

The bioenergy sector has its detractors particularly amongst environmental NGOs who tend to present only the worst case scenarios without looking at any of the multifarious benefits that bioenergy can provide. Most anti-bioenergy reports focus on three main arguments: 1) Bioenergy creates a market that is serviced by the felling of whole trees and entire forests; 2) Felling a tree for bioenergy and planting another to replace it leads to a carbon debt that takes many decades to be repaid; 3) Combustion of wood chip leads to higher emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulates (PM) that can lead to premature deaths.

All three of these common concerns can be dealt with. In 2016 only 3.3% of biomass harvested in the south east U.S was used for pellet production for renewable power. This is because bioenergy is generally a co-product of the forest industry, and is not the primary driver of forest management and harvest decisions. Saw-logs are sold to high value markets to maximize profit and only the lower grade and lower value material is used for bioenergy.

In most countries less than 2% of productive forests are felled each year leaving 98% to assimilate atmospheric carbon released from any bioenergy combustion. In addition, in the US and Europe forests are growing faster than they are being felled, with growth being driven by markets. This is providing an increase in carbon stocks through the larger area of forested land and because younger stands/forests absorb more carbon than mature ones. Furthermore, the anticipated future development of Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) technologies will enable some bioenergy pathways to achieve negative emissions.

With regards to air quality it is very difficult to identify the impacts of bioenergy combustion in isolation. Road transport particularly from diesel vehicles is a much greater source of PM and NOx pollutants. If anything these pollutants are likely to fall in the future with stricter emissions standards being adopted, as abatement technologies improve and transport is decarbonised. In any case, an increase in demand for bioenergy is likely to improve forest management practices and stimulate more planting of woodland and perennial energy crops. The former can help reduce forest fires whilst additional wooded land cover can help improve water quality and increase flood defence. All of these will protect human life.

We believe that bioenergy has to be an essential part of the EU energy mix for at least the next 30 years. Without bioenergy and CCUS technologies the COP21 commitment for a 1.5 degree reduction will be very hard, if not impossible to achieve. The negative impacts on the climate and society from such a failure will be significant for humans and biodiversity. However at the same time we clearly need to promote good practice in a well-regulated bioenergy industry that ensures it is done well. We therefore urge MEPs to vote in favour of RED amendments that will consolidate bioenergy at the centre of EU renewable energy policy.


In total 63 academics from around the world signed the letter. These are listed below in the order in which they responded:

Dr Astley Hastings, Senior Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen
Prof John (Jack) N. Saddler Professor of Forest Products Biotechnology/Bioenergy, University of British Columbia
Prof Gary Bull Head of the Forest Resources Management Dept, University of British Columbia
Prof. Nilay Shah, Department of Chemical Engineering, Imperial College London
Prof Per Gundersen, Dept. of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen
Dr. H. Martin Junginger, Professor Bio-Based Economy, Utrecht University
Prof Ioannis Dimitriou, Associate Professor, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Prof Bruce Lippke Professor Emeritus College of Environment, University of Washington
Prof Lars Rytter, Associate Professor, The Forestry Research Institute of Sweden
Dina Bacovsky, Unit Head Biofuels, BIOENERGY 2020+ GmbH, Wieselburg
Dr Oskar Englund, Postdoctoral researcher, Chalmers University of Technology
ProfIain Donnison, Institute of Biological, Environmental & Rural Sciences (IBERS), Aberystwyth University
Prof Pål Börjesson, Environmental and Energy Systems Studies, Lund University
Dr Berien Elbersen , Wagenigen Environmental Research (WENR)
Svetlana Proskurina, PhD student, Lappeenranta University of Technology
Andreas Kiesel, Department Biobased Products and Energy Crops, University of Hohenheim
Malin Pettersson, PhD student Faculty of Engineering, Lund University
Prof Iris Lewandowski, Biobased Products and Energy Crops, University of Hohenheim
Ernst Höftberger, Unit Head – Technical Energy Systems, BIOENERGY 2020+ GmbH , Wieselburg
Dr Jonathan Scurlock, Visiting Fellow, The Open University and policy adviser, National Farmers Union
Manuel Schwabl, Unit Head bei Bioenergy 2020+ GmbH, Vienna University of Technology
Dr Jeremy Woods, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London
Dr Stephen Peake, Senior Lecturer, The Open University
Manfred Woergetter, Senior Consultant & Networker, BIOENERGY 2020+ GmbH, Wieselburg
Dr HW Elbersen, Senior Scientist, Wageningen Research
Dr. Jaap Kiel, Programme Development Manager Biomass, ECN
Prof Patricia Osseweijer, Ambassador TU Delft Brazil and chair Biotechnology & Society
Prof Luuk A.M. van der Wielen, Director, Bernal Institute and Chair of Biosystems Engineering & Design, University of Limerick
i.r. J.H. Spijker, senior-researcher Management forest, nature & urban green, Wageningen Environmental Research
Dr Rocio Diaz-Chavez, Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London
Prof Indroneil Ganguly, Assistant Professor and Associate Director, Center for International Trade in Forest Products. University of Washington, Seattle
Prof Jukka Konttinen, Head of Laboratory of Chemistry and Bioengineering, Tampere University of Technology
Dr Emiliano Maletta, Agricultural Systems Research Group, Department of Agricultural Production, Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM) and Director, Bioenergy Crops Ltd.
Prof. Dr. Milan Martinov, Faculty of Technical Sciences, Chair of Biosystems Engineering, Novi Sad
Livia Spezzani, Bioenergy Project Manager – ValBiom
Prof Julian Kinderlerer, Immediate past President, European Group on Ethics , Emeritus Professor of IP Law, IP Law & Policy Research Unit, University of Cape Town.
Dr Timothy Volk, Senior Research Associate, Forest and Natural Resources Management, SUNY-ESF
Associate professor Gustaf Egnell, Forest-based bioenergy, Department of Forest Ecology and Management, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Prof Kevin Whitty, Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of Utah
Prof Bruce E. Dale, PhD, University Distinguished Professor, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Michigan State University
Dr. Víctor Hugo Durán Zuazo, IFAPA Centro Las Torres-Tomejil, CAPDR-Junta de Andalucía
Prof Lovisa Björnsson, Environmental and Energy Systems Studies, Department of Technology and Society, Lund University
Prof John M Bryden, Emeritus Professor University of Aberdeen, recently Research Professor at Norwegian Institute for Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO)
Prof Arnaldo Walter, Associated Professor – University of Campinas
Prof Richard Templer, Director of Innovation, Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London
Maria Puig Arnavat, Researcher, Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, Technical University of Denmark
Prof David Newman, Professor and Chair, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management, SUNY-ESF
Dr Paul Adams, Sustainable Energy Research Team, Dept Mechanical Engineering, University of Bath
Prof Jan Stenlid, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Prof Claus Felby, Professor Biomass & Bioenergy, University of Copenhagen
Prof Glaucia Mendes Souza, University of São Paulo Full Professor, FAPESP Bioenergy Research Program President
Prof Walter Haslinger, CSO, BIOENERGY 2020+ GmbH & Adj. Prof. Lulea University of Technology
Prof Bengt Olsson, Associate Professor, Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Dr Mattias Lundblad, Researcher, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Prof Tomas Nordfjell, Professor in Forest Technology, Department of Forest Biomaterials and Technology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Dr Dale Greene, Dean, Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources, University of Georgia
Hans Langeveld, director, Biomass Research, Wageningen
Juan Carrasco, Joint Program Co-ordinator, EERA Bioenergy Joint Program (JP) On behalf of the JP Management Board

Those that signed up after the letter had been sent to the press:

Prof. Rubens Maciel Filho, Full Professor, School of Chemical Engineering, State University of Campinas-UNICAMP
Prof Telma Franco, State University of Campinas –UNICAMP
Prof. Dr Wim C. Turkenburg, Emeritus professor ‘Science, Technology & Society’ Utrecht, University
Prof. Univ.-Doz. Dipl.-Ing. Dr. Ingwald Obernberger, BIOS BIOENERGIESYSTEME GmbH, Graz Wiebren de Jong, Professor (section head), Faculty 3mE, department P&E, Large-Scale Energy storage section, TU Delft


  • 2017 draft RPA tables, US Forest Service – In 2016 harvesting for wood products in the US South (224 million m3) represented just 2.67% of the total working forest volume (8.385 billion m3 Timberland growing stock).
  • FAOSTAT – Of the total US harvest in 2016 (402 million m3) just 3.3% (13.4 million tonnes) was used for pellet production and only 2.5% (9.9 million tonnes) for export pellets. NOTE: pellet production and export data, conversion to cubic metres of wood used assumes 2.1 m3/tonne pellets.
  • Forest Inventory and Analysis National Program Major trends –  “Harvesting affects nearly 10 million acres in the U.S. annually, or about 1.3% of all forest land.”
  • Tree Planting in the UK House of Commons Debate Pack 2 December 2016 – “The area of woodland in the UK at 31 March 2016 is 3.16 million hectares. 6,000 ha of newly created woodland were reported in the UK in 2015-16. 14,000 ha of woodland restocking were reported in the UK in 2015-16” (as a requirement of felling licenses). As a result only 0.44% of forests were felled.
  • Forest wood –  The forest and sustainable forestry – “The growth in the standing volume of wood is greater than the amount felled, and has been for the entire 20th century onwards. Annual growth stands at around 120 million forest cubic metres, and each year around 90 million forest cubic metres of that growth is harvested. In other words, the amount of forest in Sweden is constantly growing year on year, with the total volume of wood amounting to over 3 billion forest cubic metres!”