According to Article 3(31) of the Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on industrial emissions of 24 November 2010 (integrated pollution prevention and control - IED) ‘biomass’ means any of the following:
(a) products consisting of any vegetable matter from agriculture or forestry which can be used as a fuel for the purpose of recovering its energy content;
(b) the following waste:
(i) vegetable waste from agriculture and forestry;
(ii) vegetable waste from the food processing industry, if the heat generated is recovered;
(iii) fibrous vegetable waste from virgin pulp production and from production of paper from pulp, if it is co-incinerated at the place of production and the heat generated is recovered;
(iv) cork waste;
(v) wood waste with the exception of wood waste which may contain halogenated organic compounds or heavy metals as a result of treatment with wood preservatives or coating and which includes, in particular, such wood waste originating from construction and demolition waste.
In the same manner 'biomass' is defined in Article 3(18) of Directive (EU) 2015/2193 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2015 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants (MCP).
Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (recast), in Article 2(24) - (28) intoduces the following definitions:
(24) ‘biomass’ means the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues from biological origin from agriculture, including vegetal and animal substances, from forestry and related industries, including fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the biodegradable fraction of waste, including industrial and municipal waste of biological origin;
(25) ‘agricultural biomass’ means biomass produced from agriculture;
(26) ‘forest biomass’ means biomass produced from forestry;
(27) ‘biomass fuels’ means gaseous and solid fuels produced from biomass;
(28) ‘biogas’ means gaseous fuels produced from biomass.
Given that carbon released when solid biomass is burned will be re-absorbed during tree growth, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) associated with biomass combustion are treated preferentially.
GHG emissions from using biomass for electricity generation do not fall under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), therefore biomass has an advantage over fossil energy sources subject to the EU ETS.
However, European Parliament Briefing “Biomass for electricity and heating, Opportunities and challenges”of September 2015 observes that EU ETS allowances in a price range of €15-25 per tonne may encourage the use of biomass as a fuel, but are too low to incentivise the construction of new biomass plants.
In 2013, the European Parliament and Council adopted a Decision defining accounting rules for GHG from land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF), as a first step towards the inclusion of those activities in the EU emissions-reduction commitment.
At global level, REDD+ Programme aims to address emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and to promote sustainable forest management.
The EU Renewable Energy Directive does not specify sustainability criteria for biomass, while setting such detailed criteria for biofuels.
In 2010, the European Commission listed non-binding sustainability criteria regarding biomass for electricity and heating, and recommended their adoption by Member States.
Sustainability schemes relevant to energy biomass are, in particular, the following:
- Sustainable Biomass Program (SBP) certification system for woody biomass,
- ENplus certification for wood pellets,
- criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management by Forest Europe,
- certification schemes for forestry products (e.g. FSC and PEFC).
The European Commission adopted a new EU forest strategy in 2013 addressing the use of forests for the purposes, among others, biomass and bioenergy.
The European Commission in the Winter Energy Package (Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (recast) COM/2016/0767 final/2 - 2016/0382 (COD)) and the Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (recast) included the extensive and detailed rules on sustainability and greenhouse gas emissions saving criteria for biofuels, bioliquids and biomass fuels (Article 29).
Directive (EU) 2018/2001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018 on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (recast), Article 2(24) - (28), Article 29
Directive (EU) 2015/2193 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2015 on the limitation of emissions of certain pollutants into the air from medium combustion plants (MCP), Article 3(18)
Decision No 529/2013/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 on accounting rules on greenhouse gas emissions and removals resulting from activities relating to land use, land-use change and forestry and on information concerning actions relating to those activities
Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on sustainability requirements for the use of solid and gaseous biomass sources in electricity, heating and cooling (SEC(2010) 65 final SEC(2010) 66 final), 25 February 2010