SUSTAINABLE BIOENERGY PATHWAYS: Conditions to move forwards

Thuy Mai-Moulin

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Bioenergy has important roles to tackle climate change and lower dependence on fossil fuel use. In addition to other renewables such as solar, wind, and hydropower, bioenergy is needed for transformation of the global energy sector from fossil fuels dominated to renewable and carbon-neutral by the 2050. Bioenergy has been promoted by both national and international policies to increase the share of renewable energy supply. In addition to the increase of modern bioenergy consumption, a large difference between regions with a surplus of biomass and regions with high (renewable) energy demand and limited biomass resources has fostered international biomass trade of solid biomass and liquid biofuels. Although the role of bioenergy in the energy transition is recognised, the growth of modern bioenergy and international bioenergy trade has led to environmental concerns of stakeholders. These include low reduction of GHG emissions; unsustainable forest management; negative impacts on biodiversity, soil, and water. Also social and economic concerns particularly in sourcing countries are addressed by some stakeholder groups. Production and mobilisation of sustainable biomass, particularly in international sourcing countries has not yet been comprehensively investigated. Therefore, certain stakeholder groups consider that only limited sustainable biomass would be available for bioenergy production. To respond to these concerns, linked to policy support for bioenergy, efforts have been made towards sustainable governance of bioenergy through legislation, implementation of voluntary sustainability criteria and certification, and best practices. For example, the Renewable Energy Directive (RED I) established EU wide legally binding sustainability criteria to biofuels and other liquid fuels in 2009. Some national legislations and industrial initiatives in the EU have also implemented a set of sustainability criteria for solid biomass. Since 2018, more comprehensive and additional binding sustainability criteria have been defined in the Renewable Energy Directive Recast (RED II) for the whole bioenergy sectors. However, the aforementioned sustainability concerns have not yet been fully addressed. Currently, the global export regions of wood pellets for bioenergy include the US, Canada, and Russia. Other regions such as Estonia and Vietnam are also expected to be large export regions. In addition to wood pellets and biofuels, other biomass types such as wood chips, industrial round-woods, and particles of which by-products can be used indirectly for energy purposes, are expected to be highly traded internationally. Investigation of biomass export potentials with low costs is considered important for import regions to reduce their national dependence on fossil fuels import. In addition to competitive export potentials, investigation of sustainable lignocellulosic biomass potentials is important for the EU and other import regions to reduce GHG emissions in the energy sectors and assure sustainability of bioenergy. The main objective of this thesis is thus to investigate the required conditions for the bioenergy sector to move towards more sustainable pathways. The thesis focuses on lignocellulosic feedstocks that are considered promising for the production of bio-based products as well as biofuels, heat, and electricity. The following research questions are addressed: I. What are different concerns raised by stakeholders regarding environmental, socio- economic impacts of bioenergy? What are their position and vision towards sustainable bioenergy? II. What are the main factors determining sustainable biomass potentials in various sourcing regions? What are the resulting sustainable export potentials? III. What are effective sustainability criteria for bioenergy, taking into account wider sustainability concerns and practial implementation issues?
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Junginger, Martin, Primary supervisor
  • Hoefnagels, Ric, Co-supervisor
Award date24 Apr 2020
Print ISBNs978-90-8672-091-0
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2020


  • bioenergy
  • sustainability
  • sustainability criteria
  • position
  • vision
  • sustainable potentials
  • stakeholders


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