Solution for the growing demand of biomass raw material: energy crops. How can biomass revolutionise the various industrial stakeholders whilst supporting the global efforts to reach the targets set out in the Sustainable Development Goals.
The Sustainable Development Goals and Biomass
On 1 January 2016, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development officially came into force. The goals were designed to universally apply to all countries and address the various dimensions of sustainable development, including the economic, social and environmental aspects. The goal is to end poverty, fight global inequalities and tackle climate change. Goal 7 discusses ‘Affordable and Clean Energy,’ stating that
“By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology”.
Target 7.2 is necessary for sustainable development. This means that the demand for supplying biomass for bioenergy sectors will also rise. In accordance, the International Energy Agency (2014, p. 3) estimates that by 2040, biofuel use will triple in the total road transport fuel demand.
Biomass and bioenergy resources
Bioenergy can be produced from dedicated energy crops, residues from agriculture and forestry, and organic waste. Biomass derived from organic materials can be used as human food, animal feedstock or to produce biomaterials and bioenergy. According to a study conducted in 2007 (Wirsenius, pp. 1-2), from 13 billion metric tonnes harvested biomass, 82% accounted for human and animal food/feedstock, bioenergy for 11% and biomaterials for 7%. Even though food makes up the largest share of biomass use, there is now a well-documented increase in non-food uses of biomass as well. In response to the SDGs and depleting fossil fuel resources, our energy mix started to rely more on the combustion of biomass-derived biofuels, such as biogas, bioethanol and biodiesel (Müller et al., 2015). Besides energy security, the supply of biomass is tangible in a number of other SDGs such as food security, ecosystem protection, consumption and production patterns (see Table 1). Experts state, that the current biomass production patterns might not be able to meet the inherent increased demand if it keeps relying on mostly agricultural residues for energy supply. Other sources of energy, such as energy crops used on marginal lands, offer a large-scale potential to meet the needs of the energy system.
Goal 2: Zero Hunger
Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
Goal 9: Industry, innovation and Infrastructure
Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
Goal 12: Responsible Production and Consumption
Goal 13: Climate Action
Goal 15: Life on Land
(Table 1: Related SDGs)
New global demand for biomass
The SDGs shed a light on the need to restructure the bioenergy sector with creating a more sustainable sourcing of plant-based energy. Growing population, increased average income and political initiatives will all lead to an average growth in demand for biomass. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that global biomass demand for energy supply could double, from 53 EJ per year in 2010 to 108 EJ per year in 2040. Bioenergy has a key role in mitigating climate change, but the large-scale application of its current practices could be problematic. These include potential negative trade-offs, such as threatening food security, land use changes, and deforestation. However, the use of energy crops could be a possible solution to create affordable, clean and modern energy that supports Goal 7.
A sustainable source for biomass: Arundo Donax
In light of the growing demand for biomass, the agro-energy sector is gaining more importance. Energy crops are cultivated exclusively for energy production. For instance, large perennial rhizomatous grasses are known to produce cheap lignocellulosic biomass and have good adaptability to a wide range climate conditions. Giant reed (Arundo Donax) stands out for its high biomass yield, wide scope of tolerance and adaptability even to low quality marginal lands. Friends of the Earth estimated, that over 42 million hectares of land is available just in Europe for non-food production purposes. This resulting in the availability of vast amounts of land for energy crop cultivation. Arundo’s high production potential has been proven in various environments, where a high biomass yield was accompanied by low production costs and no negative environmental effects.