Sustainable Bioenergy for a Low-Carbon Future
When energy is generated from biomass, such as plants and other organic materials, it is called bioenergy.
Bioenergy is renewable and can save greenhouse gas emissions but only when produced sustainably.
What role can bioenergy play in reducing Ireland's Greenhouse Gas Emissions and reaching our 2030 targets?
Let's take a look.
Humans have a long relationship with biomass and bioenergy
Bioenergy is back in the news as it can help us move away from fossil fuels. The biomass fuel we use today comes from sources such as forest harvest leftovers, purpose grown crops, food waste, and animal manure.
Many of these sources produce energy suitable for heat, electricity, or transport.
|Energy type||% of energy type used|
|Fossil and other||89.5|
More is possible with our resources
4.1% of Ireland's energy came from bioenergy in 2017. If we continue to follow worldwide trends that number should increase to approximately 8% by 2030.
Ireland could meet up to 20% of our current energy demand from our domestic bioenergy resources by 2030.
It needs to be sustainable
When biomass is burnt to produce energy it releases the CO₂ it captured from the atmosphere when growing. As new plants grow, they reabsorb the CO₂ again. This is why bioenergy is recognised as a carbon neutral fuel.
But cultivating, processing, transporting, and using biomass fuel can cause emissions.
These emissions can seriously impact the benefits of bioenergy use.
Minimising negative environmental, economic, and social impacts
Luckily, many of the most destructive practises are already against the law in Ireland. And current EU sustainability criteria already takes total life cycle emissions into account for biomass fuel use in cars, buses and trucks. From 2021, new EU rules will extend sustainability rules to other biomass fuels used to make electricity and heat energy.
Key actions to help us deliver sustainable bioenergy:
Using biomass fuel as efficiently as possible, preferably in heat boilers and combined heat and power units
Maximising the use of the branches, tree tops and other materials left over after forests are harvested
Maximise the use of waste and end of life materials to produce energy. This helps the circular economy.
Imported materials should be certified by international bodies such as the forestry stewardship program
What SEAI is doing
At SEAI we want to help encourage sustainable bioenergy production in Ireland. We will do this in a number of ways.
Our support scheme for renewable heat will have sustainability requirements for biomass fuels.
We have identified the sustainability credentials of various Irish feedstocks and we are part of an international collaboration on the sustainability of bioenergy supply chains.
We provide Government with robust evidence to inform energy policy.
Sustainable bioenergy is fundamental for a low-carbon future
Comprehensive sustainability standards have been set by other EU member states already. Ireland will be required to follow suit and add to current standards for biomass fuels in transport by 2021. The challenge now is to ensure that bioenergy supply chains meet these standards by working with industry to develop appropriate governance and certification schemes.