Sustainable biomass supply chains for international markets

Nov 2023

The full report is available here.

This report was delivered in the frame of the project ‘Assessment of successes and lessons learned for biofuels deployment’.

Cost-effective, reliable and sustainable feedstock supply chains are crucial to a successful development of advanced biofuels. Advanced biofuels will develop in an increasingly internationalized market with respect to tradeable feedstocks as well as international end-use markets such as shipping and aviation.

This work package evaluated case studies for feedstock supply chains from multiple viewpoints, highlighting lessons from biorefineries and pulp mills using short rotation wood fibre crops (Brazil), European experiences in development of bio-based supply chains for torrefied woody biomass, pioneer biorefineries in the US (traditional feedstock pre-processing for herbaceous feedstocks) and conceptual depots producing conversion-ready feedstock and co-products. The focus was on biomass feedstock supply chains including all logistic operations to move biomass from the supply origin, for example field or forest, up to the ‘throat’ of the biorefinery.

Key lessons:

  • Facilitating the shift and scale up of (advanced) biofuels from road transport to aviation and maritime sectors will remain a challenge notwithstanding technical innovations and economies of scale that can result in substantial cost reductions.
  • Biomass harvesting and processing can be accomplished with a wide array of equipment and collection systems, modified foragers and/or in-field chopping can provide an effective alternative across different feedstock systems.
  • Since there is a time lag between the harvest and use of biomaterials, issues related to degradation, feedstock losses, and inconsistencies in quality emerge, which in turn adversely impact yield and throughput at the biorefinery. Approaches including in-field preprocessing, alternate storage designs, and utilization of feedstock blending can help overcome some of the challenges faced by pioneer biorefineries.
  • Consistency of feedstock quality is an important consideration for the development of reliable feedstock preprocessing systems. Some problems can be tackled through pre-processing steps such as torrefaction.
  • The processing of raw feedstock into water-resistant solid or liquid bioenergy carriers naturally has a significant influence on the design of the transport chains. Enabling the use of existing infrastructure, such as the coal chain, reduces investment needs, increases transport efficiency and further reduces specific costs.
  • If biomass is shipped in large units along the main shipping routes the specific costs (energy based) are moderate. But once off these main routes and especially when only smaller quantities are transported the share of transport costs in full costs of product is very significant. This situation disadvantages resources in remote areas and even cuts off some of the possibly valuable resources from biofuel markets.
  • Development of sustainability certification schemes and their benchmarking are important. Necessitating transparency and verification of the auditing process from qualified professionals to ensure quality and robustness of a certification scheme are vital.
  • The carbon intensity of fuels, including biofuels, is becoming an increasingly relevant metric in GHG mitigation policies of the transportation sector. Supply chain GHG emission calculations at the commodity level can be used to demonstrate compliance with sustainability criteria or compare the GHG performance of different pathways. Other sustainability impacts and important trade-offs, for example, between climate and other impacts such as water use, biodiversity and socio-economic impacts are also essential to consider. Important lessons learned from the challenges and controversies from conventional biofuels (for example ILUC), and electricity and heat (for example biogenic carbon issues), assessment tools, and efforts to safeguard sustainable production are therefore relevant to facilitate the sustainable deployment of advanced biofuels.

This report was delivered in the frame of the project ‘Assessment of successes and lessons learned for biofuels deployment’, work package 4.

The full set of reports is available here.