Biotrade2020+ – providing guidelines for the development of an EU Bioenergy Trade Strategy

Recently, The National Renewable Energy Centre (CENER) has been approved as a member of the International Biomass Torrefaction Biomass Council (IBTC). CENER is a technology center located in Spain, specialised in applied research and in the development and promotion of renewable energies. CENER collaborated on a project named Biotrade2020+ Project from 2014 to 2016, providing guidelines for the development of a European Bioenergy Trade Strategy:

  • What was the role of CENER in Biotrade2020+ project?

Biotrade2020+, isdavid-sanchez an investigation project co-financed by the EU, with the objective of analysing the supply of sustainable solid lignocellulosic biomass. Part of this, is analysing several of the principal trajectories of bioenergy from regions of the world with great export potential (USA, Latin America, Asia, Ukraine, etc.) to countries that form part of the European Union. This analysis includes a technical evaluation of the viability, costs and sustainability characteristics with the goal of establishing a stable market which would allow for the development of the European Bio-economy beyond 2020.

Biotrade2020+ collaborates with several consortium is made up of research institutes such as Stichting DLO Netherlands, IINAS (Germany), VITO (Belgium), Utrecht University (Netherlands) and the Imperial College (UK) as well as the consultancy firm WIP Renewable Energy (Germany), and has invested 1.1 million Euros in research funding. CENER, through their Biomass department, has been the coordinating agency.

CENER raised awareness of the need to further study this issue as there has been an increasing demand for lignocellulosic biomass in Europe in recent years and it has been confirmed that part of this demand was being met with biomass imported to Europe. It is important to note that the extent of this study, with regards to evaluating the export potential of different areas of the world, considers it very important that the exported biomass meets the relevant sustainability requirements. These need to be in line with European regulations and current sustainability standards. As has been mentioned above, the project has received European co-financed support, within the Altener Programme.

  • According to the analysis done in the project regarding the available potential and current use of biomass for energy, do you think that exports will represent a risk or an opportunity in the future?

One of the principal tasks of Biotrade 2020+ has been to point out the risks and opportunities of such a venture, not only from the perspective of European countries but also from the countries which export biomass.

The principal benefits for Europe can be summarised as follows:

  1. Higher cost-efficiency to reach renewable energy targets
  2. Beneficial also for regions with limited domestic potential
  3. Complementary with other renewable energy
  4. Broader feedstock portfolio (more flexibility in sourcing, stabilized prices)
  5. Potential to invest in new technologies (substantial biomass volumes needed to reach economy of scale)

And the identified risks are:

  1. Business case uncertainty
  2. Impact of subsidies on feedstock prices
  3. Import dependency remains an issue
  4. GHG emissions related to pre-treatment and transport
  5. Domestic potential underutilized (subsidized imports, lower environmental constraints)

When applying the analysis to countries which produce biomass the most important benefits are:

  1. Contribution to economic development
  2. Job creation
  3. Improved sustainable management practices
  4. Building up supply chains
  5. Synergies with local sectors
  6. Capacity building

And the risks are:

  1. Unstable EU policy
  2. Overexploitation (biodiversity loss and carbon loss in forests and soils)
  3. Mainly opportunity for large players, less for smallholders
  4. Displacement of local biomass/land use
  5. Low value-added exports
  6. Reduced access to land
  7. Lower local renewable energy opportunities
  • What are the most important trading routes right now? It is expected a change in the origin or delivered cost in the coming years?

Currently, forest biomass pellets exported by the U.S.A, from the south eastern states, represents the greatest share of lignocellulosic biomass which arrives in Europe. It is mainly sold to the United Kingdom but also to Belgium and the Netherlands. The amount was almost 4 million tonnes in 2014 and it is expected that this will increase.

According to the results of the project, the U.S.A still has a great exporting potential, with more than 500 PJ of forest biomass. Indonesia and Brazil also stand out, with potentials of 400 PJ and 300 PJ respectively. Ukraine is another country which is very interesting due to its proximity and its potential to create energy from agricultural waste at 200 PJ. All these levels are to be considered under the premise of a scenario for 2030 under the presumption of high export potential. At a lower level, but still important, there are other countries such as Colombia and Kenya which need to be considered. We are always referring to a potential of sustainable biomass, considering firstly that the domestic demand has been met. Nevertheless, it must be noted that although Europe is currently the area with the highest solid biomass demand, other markets are growing, especially in Asia, which could alter the makeup of established markets.

In terms of the cost for delivery to Europe, specifically to the port of Rotterdam, as in the scenario analysed for 2030, a large percentage of the imported biomass, about 600 PJ, would cost 10€ per GJ and another major part would cost less than 15€ per GJ.

The project allows interested parties to access a web tool which calculates quantities, supply chain emissions and biomass costs in areas of interest such as Brazil, southern U.S.A, Malaysia, Indonesia or Ukraine.

  • What are the most important principles that the policies should consider in order to assure sustainable trade?

After rigorous analysis by the consortium and studying the conclusions reached at various meetings with experts in the field, as well as conducting a general public survey, it has been established that the principles which regulate the international lignocellulosic bioenergy market should be based on:

  1. Trade should be based on sustainable and legally acquired biomass sources (traceable and verifiable).
  2. Markets should be transparent, with clear reporting and monitoring systems.
  3. Full value chain (from feedstock production up to end conversion) as a basis for performance assessments (e.g. energy, GHG) must be evaluated.
  4. Trade should follow the principles of fair trade, i.e. all actors in the value chain receive a fair share of the benefits.
  5. Markets should be open (WTO compliant), and there should be no discrimination in market access.
  6. Local use of biomass should have priority over trade. Displacement as a result of trade demand should be avoided.
  7. Displacement/indirect effects in the sourcing regions should be taken into account in support mechanisms for biomass/bioenergy.

A detailed explanation of each of these principals can be found in the report: “Advisory document on long-term strategies to include sustainable biomass imports in European bioenergy markets”, which is available on the project web page.


The National Renewable Energy Centre of Spain is a highly rated technology centre, with international prestige. It is specialised in applied research and the development and promotion of renewable energies. CENER has more than 200 researchers, carrying out activities on the five continents. The Board of Trustees is comprised of the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness, the Research Centre for Energy, Environment and Technology (CIEMAT), the Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism and the Government of Navarra. CENER performs its activity in six work areas (wind, solar thermal and solar photovoltaic, biomass, building energy and renewable energy grid integration), participating as a technical specialist in Technical Committees at home and abroad. More information: CENER is partnering with the ADItech Technological Corporation as the Energy Unit since it was created at the end of 2013.

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