05 Sep 2023

Biodiversity impact assessment of future biomass provision for biofuel production

Restoring and preserving biodiversity is widely acknowledged as crucial in the mobilisation of biofeedstocks for biofuels. Following Concawe’s joint study with Imperial College Consultants on the potential availability of advanced biofeedstocks (as included in RED II, Annex IX, 2019/319) in the EU-27 + UK by 2030 and 2050, there remains a need to better understand the impact of their use for biofuels on biodiversity. Therefore, a study with Fraunhofer Institute was launched, with the objective of assessing the biodiversity impact of the cultivation of energy crops for biomass production in marginal (unused, abandoned and degraded) lands.

For the study, Miscanthus was chosen as a representative energy crop, and the analysis was conducted for Germany and Bulgaria as representative countries. Fraunhofer employed two recognised methodologies to quantify biodiversity: 1. Biodiversity Impact Assessment (B.I.A) and 2. Potentially Disappeared Fraction of species (PDF). For both methods, in addition to the base case set for unused, abandoned and degraded lands, a sensitivity analysis was conducted for degraded lands to cover their different definitions and characterisations of their current biodiversity state. For the analysis, the data from the ‘high biomass availability’ scenario in the Imperial College study were used.

Applying the B.I.A method, which is more rigorous compared to PDF, it is concluded that cultivating Miscanthus may have a positive biodiversity impact on degraded lands due to their severely eroded soil. As a result, in Germany and Bulgaria combined, using up to 23% of their marginal lands’ biomass potential can lead to biodiversity improvements, while higher utilisation rates up to 50% do not cause any harm. Finally, for both methods, biodiversity change is strongly dependent on the reference state of the land. Therefore, a widely accepted definition, especially for degraded land, needs to be established to address the current uncertainties concerning the characterisation of these lands, and to prevent inaccurate biodiversity conclusions.

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