Forests, farms and everyday organic waste can provide us with biomass fuel but sources vary in availability, cost and the amount of CO2 they save.

Our most optimistic estimate suggests there could be enough biomass resource available to supply about 30% of the energy we use today.

 Agricultural wastes and residues Other by-products and wastes Forestry Energy crops
20201.35 3.64 0.895.11

But when we look at the costs and sustainability of biomass fuel processing in Ireland, the amount available can reduce.

Ireland’s biomass resources

Market prices for biomass resources impact the availability of the product. The higher the price, the more resources can be viably grown, harvested and refined.

Forestry by-products

Based on availability and existing market prices, forestry and the by-products of the forestry industry have the largest biomass resource potential. Right now, most of our bioenergy comes from sawdust and off-cuts which are by-products of the forestry industry.

Energy crops

Energy crops have a large potential. Crops like grass silage are widely available and crops like short rotation willow have significant potential. But because farming them needs to be a viable prospect, they need higher market prices to make financial sense.

  • Wheat
  • Oil seed rape (OSR)
  • Short Rotation Coppice (SRC)
  • Willow
  • Miscanthus
  • Grass silage

Agricultural and food processing by-products

The use of agricultural and by-products to make biomass fuels can help the circular economy and reduce the environmental impact of the agricultural sector. 

  • Straw
  • Pig slurry
  • Cattle slurry

Other by-products and wastes

Organic waste resources are typically available at a low or even negative cost for biomass fuel producers because it costs money to dispose of waste at landfills.

  • Brown bin food and garden waste
  • Waste wood
  • Biodegradable municipal solid waste (MSW)
  • Tallow
  • Used cooking oil (UCO)

2030 biomass resources

 Agricultural wastes and residuesOther by-products and wastesForestryEnergy crops
200 €/toe14637045871
400 €/toe167406460339
1800 €/toe2014814922116

What is a sustainable biomass fuel?

The sustainability of biomass fuels are typically assessed against environmental, economic and social criteria. To be sustainable, a biomass fuel should:

  1. Save large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions when compared alongside fossil fuel alternatives. 
  2. Avoid negatively affecting land use, food security, water resources, biodiversity and livelihoods.

EU directives

The EU set legislation to safeguard against unsustainable supply chain operations. This includes:

  • Mandatory criteria on land use, forest management and greenhouse gas emissions savings.
  • Sustainability requirements for solid and gaseous biomass in installations of a certain size.
  • Sustainability requirements for liquid biofuels.

We need to ensure that biomass regulations like these do not indirectly cause a negative effect on our environment. If, for example, adhering to a policy means having to increase the use of fertiliser, then the overall sustainability impact of the process would reduce.

How sustainable is biomass in Ireland?

The risk of causing greenhouse gas emissions varies by resource type.

Biomass fuels from forest residues and by-products of the wood industry meet EU sustainability criteria. Animal manure creates negative emissions credit under EU rules and performs well against benchmarks.

Supply chains will need to demonstrate good performance. Ireland's agricultural agency, Teagasc, is working with farmers to develop sustainable cultivation practices. These can have a large positive impact on grass cultivation in particular.

  • Wood pellets imported from outside Europe
  • Wood pellets made from short rotation coppice willow
  • Biogas from grass silage under current cultivation practices

  • Biogas co-digestion of animal manure and grass
  • Forest residue pellets
  • Short rotation coppice willow chips
  • Miscanthus pellets

  • Biogas from animal manure
  • Industry residue chips and pellets
  • Forest residue chips
  • Straw pellets
  • Biogas from food waste

How to assess biomass sustainability risks

SEAI Bioenergy Sustainability Report

View our report and see how Irish supply chains perform against IEA Bioenergy's environmental, economic and social sustainability indicators.

SEAI Bioenergy Framework

Determine sustainability risks of biomass fuels with our downloadable framework. This is not a substitute for full life-cycle assessments, nor an appropriate tool to prove compliance with sustainability requirements.

Additional tools

There are many resources to help inform biomass users about sustainability impact. While these can help establish savings, they have not been developed specifically for Ireland. It is worth being aware of individual scheme parameters and requirements during research.