Biomass will likely play an important role in a climate-neutral, circular economy. At the same time, there is ongoing public debate on biomass. Biomass use, in any case, needs to comply with clear sustainability criteria, and international climate goals should not be called into question. Future availability and a responsible use of biomass very much depend on the prevailing broader perspective.
The Dutch Cabinet intends to set up a widely supported sustainability framework for biomass. To this end, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management asked the advice of the Social and Economic Council of the Netherlands (SER). In this context, PBL was requested to provide an estimation of the availability and optimal use of sustainable biomass for the Netherlands, to serve as input for the SER advice.
Joint Fact Finding
The views on biomass vary greatly within society. Therefore, a study on biomass can only be meaningful if these various points of view are included from the onset. PBL conducted a joint fact finding, by organising meetings, interviews and online consultations, in which companies, non-governmental organisations and research institutes shared their knowledge and insights.
Demand for and availability of biomass
The scientific literature shows a wide range of estimations of the demand for biomass and its availability. This is explained by many underlying assumptions. The stakeholders’ perspective, subsequently, largely determines the types of biomass use that are considered ‘good’ and how high or low estimates of availability are assessed.
Points of agreement
There are certainly various points of agreement, among stakeholders. Climate goals are not called into question. Soils should be treated with care and timber can and should be harvested, on certain preconditions. There is a permanent role for biomass as a resource for the chemical industry. If energetic use of biomass is unavoidable for achieving renewable energy objectives, it should preferably be limited to situations where alternatives are unfeasible or unavailable. Within the Dutch context, the level of confidence in the sustainability of biomass is the highest when it originates from the Netherlands, followed by the EU rather than from anywhere in the rest of the world.
Focal points for biomass sustainability framework
The wide ranges in availability of and need for sustainable biomass present a challenge for developing a sustainability framework. In its study, PBL provides a number of focal points for the sustainability framework.