EC JRC: Biomass production, supply, uses and flows in the European Union | 2018

Executive summary

This report illustrates part of the results from the first two years of JRC biomass study, carried out in the context of the mandate on the provision to EC services of data and analysis on biomass flow, supply and demand on a long-term basis.

The JRC biomass study has a wide scope and is a long-term endeavour, not having a pre- defined duration. Here we refer to the results after the first two years, with a focus on the assessments of the biomass produced in the EU, how much is being used and for what uses, and how to assess the related environmental impacts. We report quantitative estimates on current EU biomass production, uses and flows for the sectors agriculture, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, and algae. The document contains the best estimates we had been able to attain from available data and our current knowledge, yet highlighting the remaining gaps and underlying uncertainties.

In addition, results for all sectors examined are presented with an integrated perspective and using cross-sectorial biomass flows diagrams. The methodological framework to assess the environmental impacts of biomass supply chains is also introduced.

The total agricultural biomass produced annually in the EU was estimated at 956 Mt of dry matter per year (excluding pastures) of which 54% economic production, that is grains, fruits, roots, tubers, i.e. the reason why the crop is cultivated. The remaining 46% is above ground biomass from by-products and residues such as leaves and stems, which may also have an economic value (for instance when used for animal bedding or for bioenergy production), and are also important for ecosystem services such as maintaining organic carbon levels in soil or preventing soil erosion.

The total above ground woody biomass of EU-28 forests was estimated at 18 600 Mt of dry matter, of which 68% of stemwood, the remaining 32% being branches, stumps and tops altogether referred to as other wood components (OWC). We estimated the net annual increment of EU-28 forests available for wood supply as 444 Mt/yr, of which 349 Mt stemwood and 95 Mt OWC. The average annual harvest level in the EU is about 63% of this increment. However reported removals have been shown to be underestimated up to 20%, which would correspond to a harvest-to-increment ratio approximately 12% higher. With this harvest level, harvest would still not exceed the annual increment, resulting in the increase through time of forest biomass stock, thus in EU forest acting as carbon sink.

Overall, the average annual biomass produced in the land-based sectors (agriculture and forestry) of the EU is 1466 Mt in dry matter (956 Mt agriculture, 510 Mt forestry). Not all the biomass produced is harvested and used, part of it remains in the field to maintain the carbon sink and the other ecosystem services. The biomass harvested and used in 2013 from the EU agricultural and forestry sectors was estimated as 805 Mt dry matter (578 Mt from agriculture, 227 Mt from forestry). In addition, 119 Mt were grazed in pastures.

Production from fisheries and aquaculture by the EU-28 Member States equalled 6.05 Mt wet mass (roughly corresponding to 1.5 Mt dry weight) in 2013, representing 3.17% of total global production. Total production of both macro- and micro algae was 0.23 Mt wet mass in 2015 (roughly corresponding to 0.027 Mt dry weight).

Comprehensive cross-sectorial biomass flow diagrams (Sankey diagrams) representing in a unique view the flows of biomass of different sectors of the bioeconomy, from supply to uses including trade, have been developed. The diagrams, which can be considered a first release subject to future refinements and expansion, link the data from the supply to the uses, and integrate agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and fisheries biomass flows. The biomass flow diagrams are the bases to frame the future analysis of cross-sectorial competitions and synergies.

Biomass balance sheets of supply and uses for the forest-based and agricultural sectors have been compiled with consolidated numbers detailed at MS and EU-28 levels. With reference to 2013, the EU agricultural biomass supply was composed of harvested crop production (478 Mt), collected crop residues (100 Mt), grazed biomass (119 Mt) and imports of bio-based products (121 Mt of vegetal biomass equivalents). Agricultural biomass has been further disaggregated into content in proteins, fats, sugar and starch, cellulose and other components. Concerning biomass uses, around 80% of the agricultural biomass supply was used as food and feed (15% directly consumed as plant-based food and 65% as animal feed, mostly for the production of animal-based food). Around 98 Mt dry matter of vegetal biomass equivalents were exported, the rest was used as either biofuel, biomaterial or waste.

Biomass flows diagrams for the forest-based sector have been developed illustrating cascade uses, the competition and synergies as well as the importance of different sub- sectors. We have made evident and discussed data gaps and existing inconsistencies among data sources, which in the prosecution of the study in 2018 will be further addressed.

In the forest-based sector in 2013, EU-28 reported biomass sources were in total about 354 Mt dry weight, summing primary (242 Mt), secondary (95 Mt) and post-consumer (17 Mt) sources. Total known uses of woody biomass summed to around 399 Mt dry weight of Solid Wood Equivalents (SWE), consequently, there is a gap of 45 Mt between the reported sources and uses of wood (the latter being higher). Regarding the share of energy and material uses, 52% of wood primary and secondary sources were used for materials while 48% for energy.

Biomass flows within the seafood supply chain have been reconstructed through the development and first known attempt of adaptation to seafood of a Multi Region Input- Output model (MRIO). We have reconstructed the basic technical coefficients and trade matrixes, which represent the core of the model, reconstructing global seafood biomass flows, thus providing for the first time the possibility to distinguish, for each subsector separately, the proportions of supply that are satisfied domestically and traded internationally. Further testing of model assumptions and assigning monetary values to biomass flows are activities foreseen for 2018.

Global supply, demand and trade for macro and microalgae biomass and derived products have been framed based on critical analysis of existing statistics.

A methodological framework for the analysis of environmental impacts of biomass supply chains has been developed. This framework is quite flexible, can cover all biomass uses, all environmental impacts and beyond and can accommodate the needs of different Tasks in the Biomass mandate. Firstly, the study aimed at defining a detailed guidance on when and how various Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) modelling approaches (Attributional (A-LCA), Consequential (C-LCA) and intermediate setups) should be applied. It highlighted the importance of consistency between the stated goal of the study and the methodology used. In the first phase of the study, a database was compiled to gather all the A-LCA results calculated or assembled by the JRC for multiple bio-based commodities. This database focuses on supply-chains impacts and it currently consists of more than 380 pathways. Additional commodities or pathways can be added anytime. The bulk of the database comprises bioenergy commodities mainly and focuses on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. However, the database contains numerous non-energy datasets as well, such as some bio-based materials, waste and food products. It is being further expanded. Finally, a comprehensive set of environmental impact indicators, beyond climate change impact, has been proposed to be added to the modelling framework.