The table below shows the cultivated area of the most important energy crops in Europe [Source: Bacovsky after Elbersen et al (2012)].

Bioenergy Cropping Area in Europe (2006-2008)


Area (hectares)











Sugar Beet






Reed Canary Grass






Other arables (e.g. sorghum)



List of sustainable feedstocks

A wide range of sustainable feedstocks are potentially available for the production of advanced biofuels:

Agricultural residues (see "double counted" feedstocks below)

Forest biomass (see "double counted" feedstocks below)

Energy crops - “Energy crops” may be defined as crops specifically bred and cultivated:

  • To produce biomass with specific traits to serve as an energy vector to release energy either by direct combustion or by conversion to other vectors such as biogas or liquid biofuels, or;
  • To be used in biorefinery concepts (to produce Fibre, Biochemicals, etc) and are;
  • Typically grown on marginal land not suitable for production of food crops.

Other biowaste streams (see "double counted" feedstocks below)


  • algae cultivated in raceway ponds or bioreactors
  • seaweeds
  • pondweeds grown in freshwater
  • cyanobacteria and other microorganisms


Archive examples of EU Supported Research, Development and Demonstration activities and Related Studies

ENFA European Non-Food Agriculture (FP6 – 006581)
This project will establish a dynamic agricultural and forest sector model for the integrated economic and environmental assessment of non-food alternatives in European agriculture and forestry. This tool will be used to analyze market and environmental impacts from the adoption of non-food strategies. Market impacts include supply potentials for agricultural non-food product lines under alternative policy and technology scenarios, supply, price, and trade effects for traditional agricultural and forestry products, and measures of rural community change such as changes in farm welfare, labor demand, and land values.

EPOBIO - Realising the economic potential of sustainable resources - bioproducts from non-food crops (FP6 – 022681)
This project is carrying out an integrated analysis of the European agricultural industrial and market potential requires in terms of technical and non-technical barriers facing non-food applications so that further RTD effort can be is focused on those areas with a high possibility of success. It reviews scientific and technical challenges in the context of societal expectations and economic, environmental legislative and regulatory parameters. It will result in recommendations of key activities (Flagship Programmes) that are most likely to result in development of products/ applications that can be developed from agriculture and forestry and provide tangible societal benefit by 2020. One of the first Flagship Reports includes an analysis of plant cell wall utilisation.

BIOCARD - Global Process To Improve Cynara cardunculus Exploitation for Energy Applications. (FP6 - 19829 )
The proposal aimed at demonstrating technical and economical feasibility of a global process for cardoon (Cynara cardunculus L.) exploitation for energy applications. This energy crop is appropriated for Mediterranean Area, where high problems about water insufficient exist. A combined process to produce a low-cost liquid biofuel from seeds and energy from lignocellulosic biomass is proposed. Different technologies for biomass energy conversion will be researched and compared in order to increase competitiveness and improve the costs. New heterogeneous catalysis for liquid biofuel production will be tested.

CROPGEN - Renewable energy from crops and agrowastes (FP6 - 502824)
The overall objective of this project is to produce from biomass a sustainable fuel source that can be integrated into the existing energy infrastructure in the medium term, and in the longer term will also provide a safe and economical means of supplying the needs of a developing hydrogen fuel economy. The concept is based on the use of anaerobic digestion (AD) as a means of producing methane from biomass, including energy crops and agricultural residues. The technology of biochemical methane generation is well established: the breakthrough to a cost-effective and competitive energy supply will come from engineering and technical improvements to increase conversion efficiencies, and from reductions in the cost of biomass. The research will determine how the technology can best be applied to provide a versatile, low-cost, carbon-neutral biofuel in an environmentally sound and sustainable agricultural framework.

European Energy Crops Processing and Utilisation in Europe (FAIR-CT95-0512)
The objective of this concerted action was to to improve the access to existing information on the production, processing and utilisation of energy crops as well as to enhance the integration of research, development and implementation activities on energy crops.

SWEETFUEL - Sweet sorghum: an alternative energy crop (FP7 - 227422)
Sweet sorghum, as a source of either fermentable free sugars or lignocellulosics, has many potential advantages, including: high water, nitrogen and radiation use efficiency; broad agro-ecological adaptation; rich genetic diversity for useful traits; and the potential to produce fuel feedstock, food and feed in various combinations. Fuel-food crops can thereby help reconciling energy and food security issues. This project will breed for improved cultivars and hybrids of sorghum for temperate, tropical semi-arid and tropical acid-soil environments by pyramiding in various combinations, depending on region and ideotype, tolerance to cold, drought and acid (Al-toxic) soils; and high production of stalk sugars, easily digestible biomass and grain. SweetFuel aims also to identify and recommend the best cultural and harvest practices to make the system more sustainable and to provide for integrated technology and impact assessments including economics, dissemination and coordination. Research involves structured participation of stake holders, including policy makers. Project outcomes will be new germplasm, sustainable practices and commodity chain concepts adapted to each target region. (Source: EPSO)

SORGHUM: Environmental studies on sweet and fibre sorghum sustainable crops for biomass and energy (FAIR-CT96-1913)
The general objective of this project was to study the environmental impacts of sweet and fibre sorghum within real cropping systems with particular reference to nitrogen balance. The aim was to provide information that was lacking in order to introduce these crops in crop rotations and establish the environmental impact under field conditions on existing cropping systems.

Sweet Sorghum, A Sustainable Crop for Energy Production in Europe (AIR1-CT92-0041)
This project aimed to optimize the production of this crop in various pedoclimatic situations from north to south Europe using previous data and reliable references in order to propose a model for agro-industry systems (technical, economic and environmental) in different European scenarios as well as solve or reduce the limitations of this crop identified in previous studies.

US projects to develop supply chains for sustainable biofuel feedstocks

In December 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy announced funding of two projects on bioenergy feedstock logistics. The State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Syracuse, will carry out a $3.5m project to lower the cost of SRC, and improve harvesting and processes, to deliver feedstocks better tailored to the needs of biorefineries. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will carry out a $3.5m study on optimised blending of biomass feedstocks within the delivery radius of a biorefinery. The project will develop a processing facility to provide more consistent feedstock.

The USDA NIFA is coordinating 6 regional development projects to develop feedstocks for advanced biofuels, including energy grasses, sorghum, energy cane, oil crops and cellulosic biomass. The University of Washington is leading the Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest project, as well as the Northwest Advanced Renewables Alliance: which is encouraging the conversion of forestry residues to aviation fuels. The Southeast Partnership for Integrated Biomass Supply Systems led by the University of Tennessee is using switchgrass and woody biomass to produce butanol and aviation fuel. Biofuels Center of North Carolina recently awarded $684,000 for six projects to accelerate the renewable fuels industry in western North Carolina [Source: Biomass Magazine April 2013].

Energy crop premium (abolished in 2009)

In September 2006 the European Commission proposed to extend the energy crop premium introduced by the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy reform to the eight Member States which currently did not benefit from it. In a further push to encourage the production of feedstocks for renewable energy production, the Commission also proposed allowing the Member States to grant national aid of up to 50 percent of the costs of establishing multi-annual crops on areas on which an application for the energy crop aid has been made. In the interests of simplifying the management of the CAP, the Commission also proposed to allow eight Member States which joined the EU in 2004 to continue operating the Single Area Payment Scheme for a further two years until 2010. The countries affected were Czech Republic, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. However, in 2009 it was announced that the energy crop premium would be abolished, along with mandatory set aside.

Links and References

Sustainable Production of Second-generation Biofuels. IEA Information Paper
Eisentraut, A. (2010)

Bioenergy – a Sustainable and Reliable Energy Source – Main Report
IEA Bioenergy: ExCo: 2009:06

Toward a classification approach for biorefinery systems. Biofuels Bioproducts & Biorefining
Cherubini et al. (2009)