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Global Bioeconomy in the Conflict Between Biomass Supply and Demand

  • Tuesday, 13th October 2015
  • Reading time: about 4 minutes

The results of the study “Sustainable Biomass Potentials for Biofuels in Competition to Food, Feed, Bioenergy and Industrial Material Use in Germany, Europe and the world” has been released providing a detailed view of possible scenarios for sustainable supply of biomass up until 2050, and of the development of demand in all sectors using biomass: food, feed, chemicals and materials, bioenergy and biofuels.

According to the Nova Institute, the scenarios are based on well-founded assumptions on factors such as population growth, income developments, changes in consumption patterns, land erosion, efficiency gains in agriculture, etc. Due to this transparent approach, it is clear to see under which assumptions either global supply shortages or a sufficient coverage of demand may occur.

Nova Institute explains that a modelling tool is also available which makes it relatively easy to work out new scenarios with varied input parameters. Interested parties should contact nova-Institute and all documents and main graphics of the project can be downloaded for free at its website –

According to Nova, the project was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture (BMEL) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) under grant number 22501112 resp. 12BMU011, and carried out by an expert team at the nova-Institut. The results of the study were first published in August 2015.

The report is in German with a short English version also. The English version is different from the German, and Nova explains that iit focuses only on results on the global level, and contains one additional scenario “High demand – low pressure” which integrates solar fuels and chemicals from CO into the supply side. This scenario has been developed in the project “Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in the Bioeconomy – A Challenge for Europe” (Mathijs et al. 2015), carried out by an expert group of the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) as the 4th Foresight Exercise. The results were presented to the public in October 2015. Michael Carus of nova-Institute was part of this group as “long-term expert”.

Nova says that the authors show that the LOW supply scenario with sustainable agriculture and forestry could be counterproductive for an overall sustainable development of the global economy. It says that this can be prevented if massive investments into solar and wind energy as well as storage systems and Carbon Capture & Utilisation (CCU) technologies take place. Only then can the demand of material and energetic use be met without increased biomass supply.

A section on future trends identifies additional systems and technologies that can provide huge additional amounts of biomass without increasing pressure on nature and biodiversity significantly. Prime examples of such technologies are i.e. the reclamation of deserts, turning seawater into drinking water with solar energy, or ocean farming of the macroalgae Kelp. This way, even more additional biomass could be supplied by 2050 than achieved in scenario HIGH through extension of land area and intensification.

The additional demand scenario High growth – low pressure explores how these future trends could ease the pressure on biomass while still meeting the demands of a well-developed bioeconomy. In this scenario, the overall demand is the same as in the “Bio-based High” scenario but biomass is to a larger extent substituted by solar energy and other renewables. As a consequence, the leftover biomass demand can be covered by the BAU supply scenario.

Nova claims that, taking into account a multitude of future trends, it appears that prospective conflicts between creation and preservation of large protected and natural areas and at the same time considerable increase in production of biomass and other forms of renewable carbon carriers can be overcome permanently. Bioeconomy and renewable energies together with CO2 utilisation can secure the global raw material supply long-term and sustainable without endangering nature or biodiversity. However, this requires consistent political guidance and huge investments in new technologies.

Michael Carus, CEO and founder of nova-Institute and co-author of the study, sums it up: “The bioeconomy can, embedded in the right overall strategy with renewable energies and together with the CO economy, make an important contribution to worldwide sustainable development.”

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