Residual Biomass: A Silver Bullet to Ensure a Sustainable Bioeconomy?


The transition to a bioeconomy is generally considered as a step towards increased sustainability. However, land use changes caused by increased biomass production have several negative impacts and as a consequence, many cultivated biomass resources are unsustainable. One proposed alternative is the use of residual biomass: biomass that is not cultivated for the use in a bioeconomy directly, but is a waste product of other processes. Since residual biomass is not produced on agricultural land and is generally assumed to be cheaper than cultivated biomass, it appears to be a silver bullet for sustainable biomass supply. This paper discusses conditions that determine whether the use of residual biomass is indeed sustainable. Based on an extensive literature review we conclude that residual biomass is not a silver bullet, but can contribute to sustainability under certain conditions. Most importantly, the consequences for sustainability of changing current use have to be evaluated. Residual biomass is only seldom unused waste and regularly provides another function or ecosystem service, such as maintaining soil quality or providing habitats. The benefits of extracting residual biomass for new applications have to outweigh the loss of their former function. Furthermore, not all residual biomass uses contribute to sustainability equally. Applications should be optimized to achieve various sustainability goals, such as the replacement of fossil resources, GHG emission reductions, reduction of mineral imbalances, or environmentally friendly products. Advances can be achieved through adapting technologies and logistics and increasing synergies between biomass-processing sectors.

Author Information
Swinda F. Pfau, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands

Paper Information
Conference: ECSEE2015
Stream: Energy: Renewable Energy and Environmental Solutions

This paper is part of the ECSEE2015 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon