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Sustainable exploitation of biomass for bioenergy from marginal lands in Europe

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - SEEMLA (Sustainable exploitation of biomass for bioenergy from marginal lands in Europe)

Reporting period: 2017-07-01 to 2018-12-31

Enlarging the sustainable biomass potential is a key challenge under the EU 2030 climate & energy framework. The aim of the SEEMLA project was the reliable and sustainable exploitation of biomass from marginal lands (MagL), which are used for neither food nor feed production and are not posing a threat to the environment.
The main groups that were targeted were regional authorities and public or private owners of MagLs. These parties were able to provide knowledge on land availability, and will be the main parties involved in the management of said bioenergy plants. Gaining the perspective of foresters, farmers, and the general public regarding how the transformation of MagL intro energy crop plantations will affect each sector, was crucial to the project’s success. The project focused on three main objectives: (i) the promotion of re-conversion of MagLs for the production of bioenergy through the direct involvement of farmers and foresters, (ii) the strengthening of local small-scale supply chains and (iii) the promotion of plantations for bioenergy plants on MagLs.Moreover the expected impacts were: increasing the production of bioenergy, improving the state of farmers’ incomes, creating investment opportunities in new technologies, and the overall design of new policy measures. FNR (DE) was the project coordinator. This included project management in a participative approach with team partners from: IFEU and BTU Cottbus (DE), Legambiente (IT), Democritus University of Thrace and Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace (GR), as well as the Institute of Bioenergy Crops and Sugar Beet and SALIX Energy Ltd. (UA). This project lasted for a duration of three years from January 2016 until December 2018.
To fulfil the objectives in SEEMLA, the project partners utilised a number of different approaches. In the first phase, the definition of marginal lands (MagL) was established, and all existing data concerning the current status of marginal lands was collected. Pilot case sites were selected and established, soil samples were taken and analysed in a laboratory and the sites were classified in accordance with the Müncheberg Soil Quality Rating (SQR) approach of Müller et al. 2007. Hence, in total four pilot case sites were chosen in Germany, Greece, and Ukraine, on which both woody (lignocellulosic), and grassy bioenergy crops were grown, i.e. poplar, willow, and switchgrass amongst others.
With regard to an appropriate legal framework, an overview of the already existing policies and programmes had been elaborated, and was continuously updated throughout the project’s lifetime. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Renewable Energy Directive (RED and the upcoming REDII) were playing a key role in the SEEMLA approach, besides the goals that were given in the partner countries National Renewable Energy Action Plans (NREAPs). Thus, the status of developing a stable and sustainable bio-economy differed a lot amid each SEEMLA partner country. This was taken into account when developing recommendations for a specifically tailored policy framework for a sustainable exploitation of biomass from MagL for bioenergy purposes. Several dissemination events and international symposia were held including: five national workshops, in Italy, Germany, and Ukraine, where large numbers of local stakeholders were able to attend. Other dissemination events included the SEEMLA international symposium in Copenhagen, and the SEEMLA & ADVANCEFUEL final conference and workshop. There were a range of different participants in these events from foresters and farmers, to experts from the business world, as well as researchers, and decision makers. All participants were involved in the development of a suitable SEEMLA approach including a legal framework to support the stakeholders by e.g. incentive programmes (cf. e.g. to “Greening” in the CAP or the market incentive programme of the German Renewable Energy Sources Act, EEG).
The partner IFEU performed life cycle assessment and environmental impact assessment analyses in the second reporting period of the project; while partners with pilot cases provided data, e.g. yields, and soil data etc. which were incorporated in these analyses. In this context, suitable value chains were selected, including the use of biomass for heating, e.g. in form of pellets or wood chips.
SEEMLA partner DUTH developed a web-based GIS application for the SEEMLA approach based on a GIS-tool adapted for the MagL assessment, allowing the identification of such MagL not only in the partner countries, but also in the remaining EU Member States. The web-based GIS application and also the SEEMLA reports and documents are available on the projects’ website:
The results achieved by the end of the SEEMLA project were in line with the projected project progress and were well within the project’s objectives.
SEEMLA aimed to raise the public acceptance for bioenergy production in Europe and to reduce the widespread reservations against bioenergy production by minimising the food-bioenergy competition in agriculture. Currently underutilised sites will be a large contributor in solving this conflict. Thus, stakeholders currently hesitating to grow bioenergy crops can utilise project results to determine the benefits and possible approaches to clearly identify sustainable ways for bioenergy production on MagL without land use conflicts. Biomass production on MagL does and will continue to offer landowners the opportunity to expand their economic potentials. One major objective of SEEMLA was, therefore, to persuade stakeholders of the potentials of MagL by practically providing land use tools in order to raise awareness for this widely neglected option. The case studies with selected test sites were used to demonstrate suitable measures under practical conditions. The calculations for those case study sites showed, that only biomass production on these selected areas had significant ecological advantages. Along with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel resources will also be conserved.
The second major task of this project was to convince the general public in European countries that biomass production could be expanded without further increasing conflicts with regard to land use. SEEMLA analysed the sustainability of the proposed land use tools for MagL, balancing between related environmental and socio-economic issues. As a result, a reliable estimation of the potentials of MagL in Europe and the potentially available areas was determined. Bottlenecks were identified and solutions were then presented. Based on these solutions, the use of MagLs for biomass production as part of the strategy saving fossil energy sources were calculated and disseminated to stakeholders including the general public and policy makers. A broad audience was reached through workshops, participation in exhibitions, and media work in the pilot regions and beyond. (WP3 and 7).
SEEMLA promoted four development pathways in the pilot case regions on MagL, reaching more than 2,650 stakeholders in the SEEMLA events and approximately 24,000 viewers on the project webpage. General project results and results from case study regions served as a blueprint for other projects in utilising MagL for biomass production, and in overcoming unfavourable political framework conditions.