Sustainability Criteria Options and Impacts for Irish Bioenergy Resources

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SEAI appointed Byrne Ó Cléirigh (BÓC) and Navigant to propose an appropriate approach to solid and gaseous bioenergy sustainability for Ireland that will support the goal of promoting sustainable low carbon bioenergy feedstocks. The study was carried out in three phases; this report covers the activities carried out in Phases I & II. Phase III examines options for implementing a sustainability system and how such a system could be administered.

The objective of Phase I was to collate knowledge on what constitutes sustainable biomass, whilst Phase II looks in more detail at likely biomass supply chains in the Irish context. While there have been sustainability requirements for biofuels (fuel used in transport) and bioliquids (used to produce electricity and heat) for several years in the EU, the schemes that govern biofuel sustainably can differ – it is still an area that is being developed and there are often different views and opinions on what factors need to be considered when determining if a biofuel or bioliquid is sustainable.

Bioenergy can play an important part in a future energy system, but it must be done sustainably. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth assessment report (2014)1 states that bioenergy can play a critical role for mitigation, but there are issues to consider, such as the sustainability of practices and the efficiency of bioenergy systems. The report states that barriers to large-scale deployment of bioenergy include concerns about GHG emissions from land, food security, water resources, biodiversity conservation and livelihoods. The scientific debate about the overall climate impact related to land-use competition effects of specific bioenergy pathways remains unresolved… Bioenergy technologies are diverse and span a wide range of options and technology pathways. Evidence suggests that options with low lifecycle emissions (e.g. sugar cane, Miscanthus, fast-growing tree species, and sustainable use of biomass residues), some already available, can reduce GHG emissions; outcomes are site-specific and rely on efficient integrated ‘biomass-to-bioenergy systems’, and sustainable land-use management and governance.

In Phase I, we examined the biomass sustainability criteria that could be applied, the legislative regime in Ireland and the approach other Member States have taken to implementing sustainability criteria for solid and gaseous biomass. We also examined the approaches to calculating GHG emissions from biomass and recommended an approach that provides SEAI with sufficient information to understand what represents robust sustainability criteria and how compliance could be demonstrated. In Phase II we examined in greater detail the specific GHG savings from potential Irish bioenergy supply chains and developed a framework to assess the level of sustainability of those supply chains, taking into account the criteria set out in the recast Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) and other environmental, economic and social indicators.

Section 2 of this report describes the EU legislation, covering the RED and RED II. Section 3 covers relevant Irish regulations and guidelines. Section 4 describes the system in place in the UK to demonstrate the sustainability of solid and gaseous biomass, while Section 5 gives an overview of examples in other Member States. Section 6 describes the approach to calculating and reporting GHG emissions in the RED II, examines GHG emissions for typical bioenergy supply chains in the Irish context, and also describes indirect effects and the concept of carbon debt. Section 7 describes a framework that could be used for assessing the sustainability risk of different biomass fuel chains. The framework is intended to be informative and to identify where sustainability risks may arise. Finally, in Section 8, we summarise the main conclusions arising from this study.

Given the range of topics covered in this report, we provide a short summary of the key information at the start of each section.


This report has been prepared by Byrne Ó Cléirigh Limited and Navigant for Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI)

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