Rabobank predicts greater use of agricultural residues in the EU

By Erin Voegele | January 08, 2014

A report recently published by the Netherlands-based Rabobank predicts that agricultural residues will play an increasing role in European bioenergy production through 2020. While Rabobank said it expects woody biomass feedstocks to continue to dominate the bioenergy industry, rising global demand for solid biomass is expected to increase prices for current bioenergy feedstocks, such as wood pellets and chips. The report indicates agricultural residues could help fill the resulting void.

While renewable targets across the European Union have been lowered in recent years, data presented in the report predicts that the European bioenergy sector will continue to grow. The production of electricity from biomass sources is expected to nearly double by 2020 while thermal energy consumption from biomass is expected to increase by approximately 27 percent.

Within the report, Rabobank stresses that agricultural residues offer two key benefits to the bioenergy industry. They are cheap and abundant materials. They are also face less sustainability restrictions. Although supply chain issues have presented challenges to date, Rabobank said it expects that these challenges can be overcome.

Regarding greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals, Rabobank’s report noted that agricultural residues are estimated to reduce emissions by at least 80 percent when compared to coal. The GHG savings are attributed in part to the fact that agricultural residues not harvested for bioenergy use are otherwise left to rot on the field, leading to methane emissions.

The report also discusses the potential for the EU to develop sustainability requirements for solids biofuels that are similar to those already in place for liquid biofuels. If enacted, these stricter requirements, aimed primarily at pulpwood pellets, could help make agricultural residues a more important source of biomass in Europe.

According to Rabobank, there are several challenges associated with using agricultural residues in place of wood pellets for bioenergy production. A lack of high-volume suppliers complicates the supply chain in terms of both logistics and contracting, as project developers must work with a larger number of small suppliers. In addition, agricultural residues are generally not pelletized and are a less efficient fuel for cofiring with coal. Solutions for these problems exist, but require investment beyond what is needed to cofire wood pellets. However, Rabobank predicts that by 2020 the revenues and cost savings resulting from the use of agricultural residues will likely more than compensate for higher supply risks and investments.

Additional information on the report is available on the Rabobank website