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General Information - Biomass

Biomass is one of the most important and most diverse renewable energy sources in Germany. Biomass is used in solid, liquid and gaseous form to produce electricity and heat and to manufacture biofuels. In 2010 around 70 percent of total final energy from renewable sources was covered by the different types of biomass used for energy generation. In Germany, bioenergy (based on final energy consumption) accounted for 5.5 percent of total electricity consumption, 8.73 percent of total heat demand and 5.8 percent of total fuel consumption.

The use of bioenergy is to be further expanded. The technical potential required for this is available in Germany even though there are limits to the development of bioenergy. In the agricultural and forestry sectors, part of the 17 million hectares of agricultural land (approx. 12 million hectares of arable land and approx. 5 million hectares of grassland) and of the 11 million hectares of woodland are available for biomass production.

By far the most important source of bioenergy in Germany is wood. Domestic consumption of wood resources has increased continuously over the past two decades and currently amounts to 130 million cubic metres per year. Wood resources include raw wood, waste wood (recovered wood), material from landscape management but also industrial wood residues which are already included in the raw wood fraction. A total of 77 million cubic metres are used for production purposes and 53 million cubic metres for energy generation. Model calculations carried out by the Federal Research Centre for Forestry and Forest Products have shown that there are reserves to expand the use of wood without impairing sustainable forestry.

In addition to forestry, agriculture also plays an important role in producing biomass for energy generation. In 2011 the acreage used to grow energy crops already amounted to 2 million ha which is almost 17 per cent of its arable land. Most prominent are rape seed as crop for biodiesel production (910,000 ha), the provision of substrates for biogas production (800,000 ha) and the cultivation of plants for bioethanol production (250,000 ha). An additional 300,000 ha are under cultivation of so-called industrial plants to provide renewable raw materials for production purposes. There is also a certain potential for the expansion of agricultural biomass production. The results of various studies show that from 2020 onwards it will be possible to use 2.5 to 4 million hectares of agricultural land for the cultivation of energy crops.

In addition to the biomass provided through forestry and agriculture, residual biogenic substances and biogenic wastes are available for energy production. These include in particular waste and recovered wood, biowaste (e.g. from bio bins), sewage sludge/sewage gas/landfill gas, slurry/solid manure and straw. Together with less significant residual substances and wastes this adds up to an energy potential of around 550 peta joule. In the future special attention must be given to the tapping of this still largely unused potential. Energy production from biogenic residues and waste helps to avoid or mitigate potentially conflicting uses between biomass for energy purposes or as production material.

Energy from biomass has become an important economic sector in Germany. In 2010 approximately 122,000 people were employed in the bioenergy related sector with most of them working in agricultural and forestry raw material production and the newly developing industry producing biomass fuels such as pellets, wood chips or biogas. The total turnover for the entire bioenergy sector amounted to 7.92 billion euro in 2010.

Close up: Various types of wood in small pieces
(Picture: BMU / Bernd Müller)