A sustainable source that benefits climate, industry and society – EURACTIV.com

As the world battles climate change, it is imperative that all elements of society, from governments to businesses to citizens, work together. In Japan, this principle is deeply rooted. It even has a name: “Sanpo Yoshi”, a centuries-old Japanese theory that a business can and should benefit society as a whole – the seller, the buyer and the local community.

Marco Baresi is Director of Institutional Affairs at Turboden.

Nowhere in Europe can we draw inspiration from this concept more urgently than in our attempts to decarbonise the economy. In southern Italy, for example, a company called Fiusis generates over 7,500 MWh/year of clean electricity from biomass – in this case, virgin wood chips from pruning local olive trees. This not only reduces carbon dioxide emissions, but also contributes significantly to the reduction of open field fires.

The pioneering nature of the Fiusis project has been recognized both by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development and by the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels. The way he demonstrates the “Sanpo Yoshi” philosophy is shown here.

Another example of how bioenergy can benefit a local community comes from the heart of the Dolomite mountains in Italy. The town of Dobbiaco has been supplying its district heating with woody biomass from its forest management program, using local industries to generate green heat and electricity for the local community since 2003. Dobbiaco’s supply chain covers the entire valley of Pusteria, ensuring the supply of wood from fir and larch are harvested within a radius of less than 70 km. This balanced and sustainable supply chain has a double benefit: downstream, it generates renewable heat, which keeps citizens’ bills stable – and upstream, the woods are kept clean.

The electrical system installed in both power stations is an ORC (Organic Rankine Cycle) system. It allows the production of electricity and heat from multiple sources, including many types of biomass and residues (woody biomass, rice husk, waste furniture, pomace and olive pits, malt dust, husk sunflower, cotton gin waste, etc.). In addition, organic solutions of the Rankine cycle in power plants in cogeneration mode, generally in a range of up to a few MWe, have an overall efficiency greater than 98%.

Many of these biomass power plants are currently in operation around the world, but the EU is the leading region, with bioenergy accounting for 57% of all renewable energy consumed. The sector employs 703,200 people, including all suppliers in the EU value chain, generating €60.6 billion in annual turnover. Projections up to 2030 show an increase in the use of bioenergy for electricity and heat in several EU countries. One of the countries that will see the biggest increases is France. [Source: Bioenergy Europe – Statistical Report 2021]

The widespread adoption of this technology is due to its considerable advantages. of a energy point of view, bioenergy contributes to the stability and resilience of the electrical and thermal system while enabling the transition to an increasingly renewable and distributed production model. It also promotes the coupling and efficiency of sectors, thanks to the massive use of high-efficiency cogeneration systems. And it reduces dependence on fossil fuels, which can be replaced by derivatives of organic residues. Especially in 2021, it has also proven to be a reliable source for power and heat generation, capable of smoothing out huge fluctuations in gas prices.

Socioeconomic, bioenergy promotes the creation of local sectors, essential for combating the depopulation of rural areas and the development of a dynamic, innovative and sustainable industrial sector, centered on the manufacture of complex cogeneration systems.

Finally, from a environmental point of view, bioenergy contributes to the circular economy, thanks to the recovery of secondary raw materials that would otherwise be eliminated, and the decarbonisation of sectors that are difficult to reduce, such as thermal energy and transport.

EU rules threaten additional charges

Although it is an essential part of renewable energy production in Europe, the EU regulatory policies being developed to govern bioenergy present a decidedly mixed picture for the sector.

For example, the revised RED proposal sets strict thresholds on the amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that must be saved by solid biomass installations producing electricity, heating and cooling – lowering the limit of the total nominal thermal power from 20 MW to 5 MW (equivalent to approximately 700 kW of power).

This proposal, if adopted, will seriously harm the economics of small biomass power plants. Fees for additional GHG emissions certifications could add up to 10% per year to the fuel costs of a high-efficiency biomass cogeneration plant with a capacity of 1 MWe. Adding such bureaucratic costs without adding real benefits for these small-scale factories usually integrated into the territory as for the example mentioned before, will undermine business plans that are already very close to the bone.

In addition, factories that benefit from the first period of incentives born with the 20-20-20 package will face uncertainty. These plants will come out of the incentive period in the coming years, representing strategic assets for the community and for the contribution of renewable energies and heat to the decarbonisation of the economy. Without proper monitoring, the risk is to turn off many factories, to waste the investments made, the local social and economic benefits and the valuable contribution to the ambitious “Fit for 55” package.

Conclusion

Bioenergy generated from solid biomass – which comes from by-products, residues or from sustainable forest management – ​​can make an important contribution to Europe’s economic, environmental and social development. It will be particularly useful in achieving the region’s ambitious decarbonization targets for heating, cooling and electricity. At the same time, it can help us regulate the local climate, contain outbreaks of fire and manage water flows. It is a real ecologically and socio-economically sustainable solution to preserve and promote the local economy. And it is essential to mitigate the impact of the huge fluctuations in gas prices that Europe is currently experiencing. This great potential should not be wasted by adding unnecessary bureaucratic burdens to the operators of small biomass power plants.

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