Mapping biomass resources in Europe

The biomass demand is constantly growing in the EU, given to the energy efficiency targets and the increase of renewables share in Europe requested by the Energy Union Strategy. Since the most important biomass supplies come from several sectors (agriculture, forestry, waste, fisheries, aquaculture, and algae) this article aim is to offer an overview of current available resources of biomass in Europe.

This paper is based on information from the JRC report Biomass production, supply, uses and flows in the EU (2018).


Biomass from agriculture
Agriculture occupies half of the EU land area. In the EU, the annual total agricultural biomass production is estimated at 956 million tonnes (Mt) of dry matter, as averaged from 2006 to 2015 (García-Condado et al., 2017). The 54% of this biomass are produced in the form of the primary products and is referred to as economic production. The remaining 46% is referred to as residue production.

Total residue biomass from agriculture in the EU has increased slightly over the period of 1998-2015.  The distribution of economic and residue production is across the top 7 Member States: France, Germany, Poland, Italy, Spain, the UK and Romania. They make up about 75% of the economic (384 Mt/yr) and residue production (323 Mt/yr).

In 2013, the European agricultural biomass total supply amounts to approximately 818 Mt of dry matter of vegetal biomass equivalents. It is composed of crop economic production (estimated at 478 Mt), collected crop residues (100 Mt), grazed biomass (119 Mt) and imports of bio-based products (121 Mt), 60% in the form of food products, 30% in the form of crop products (non-manufactured) and the rest in the form of bio-based material products (ca. 10%) (Camia et al., 2018).


Biomass from forestry
In 2015, the total EU-28 forest area amounted to 161 Mha (Forest Europe, 2015), covering 38% of the land. Of this area, 134 Mha (84%) are considered as forests available for wood supply (FAWS).   In 2015, EU-28 forest reached 26 billion m³, meaning that forest increased 34% over the last quarter of a century (AEBIOM, 2017).

In 2013, the total above ground biomass (AGB) of EU-28 forests is estimated to be 18 600 Mt dry weight. Considering only FAWS, the total AGB is 16 000 Mt of which 10 900 Mt (68%) is stem wood, the remaining 5 100 Mt (32%) being OWC. Countries in Central-West Europe account for a large share of AGB (36% of EU-28), while the region of North Europe comes second. Since 2000, the stock of AGB in EU-28 forest has been increasing by 223 Mt per year on average, which corresponds to an annual rate of increase of 1.3% (Camia et al., 2018).

On EU level, reported data indicate that energy accounts for nearly half (48 %) of the total use of woody biomass, the remaining 52% being material uses. Energy use of wood has been increasing, not the least wood pellets consumption.


Biomass from fisheries and aquaculture
With regard to fisheries, the technical potential biomass (TPB) refers to the biomass that is available to the EU Member States in a form that can be used to benefit society. TPB represents the flows of biomass from wild capture fisheries through the supply and demand systems. Over the period 2003-2013, the TPB of the EU-28 for the North Atlantic and Mediterranean combined is estimated an overall average of 4.3 Mt (wet weight).

The top 5 EU Member States to which the largest TPB is attributed to are Denmark (791 thousand tonnes), the United Kingdom (603 thousand tonnes), Spain (442 thousand tonnes), France (428 thousand tonnes) and THE Netherlands (326 thousand tonnes).

In terms of production, the UK, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Irish fleets are the most important and collectively were responsible for 74% of the landed weight and 87% of the value landed in 2015 (JRC 2017). Based on the value of landings the French (30% of the regional landings), Spanish (26%) and UK (20%) fisheries have the highest level of landings in the Northeast Atlantic. However, Ireland and Portugal have the highest percentage of national landed value from the Northeast Atlantic at 90% and 75%, respectively. European aquaculture production represented only 1.7% of the world aquaculture production in terms of weight and 3.2% in value (Camia et al., 2018).


Biomass from algae
This biomass is a valuable resource in the European bio-based economy. It is currently used mainly by the food and chemical industry as raw material for the extraction of hydrocolloids and for human nutritional products. Over the last decade, the development of new algae-based applications and the rising interest to include high quality seaweeds in western diets increased the demand for algae biomass.

In Europe, the algae cultivation is still at an early phase. The European algae production accounted for 1.14% of the worldwide biomass supply between 2006 and 2015 (FAO 2016). The European algae production sector is mainly based in Norway, France, Ireland, Iceland and the Russian Federation, accounting together for around 98% of the total European biomass supply between 2006 and 2015. The production is dominated by Norway, supplying more than half (65%) of the total European macroalgal biomass production in 2015. The dominant biomass production method in Europe remains the harvesting of wild stocks with Denmark being the only country with the algae production sector exclusively based on aquaculture.

About 472 tonnes dry weight of macroalgae were commercialized in Europe in 2013 from which a quarter were supplied by European producers (Organic monitor 2015).   Microalgae biomass production in Europe is low but the commercial value of some species and applications are high with for example extracts of some species (e.g. Haematococcus pluvialis) being sold at a value of €125/ml (Camia et al., 2018).

written by Katarina Lizakova, EUBIA




AEBIOM. 2017. European Biomass Association. Statistical report. European bioenergy outlook. Key findings, pp. 1-43.

*Camia A., Robert N., Jonsson R., Pilli R., García-Condado S., López-Lozano R., van der Velde M., Ronzon T., Gurría P., M’Barek R., Tamosiunas S., Fiore G., Araujo R., Hoepffner N., Marelli L., Giuntoli J.,. 2018. Biomass production, supply, uses and flows in the European Union. First results from an integrated assessment, EUR 28993 EN, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, 2018, ISBN 978-92-79-77237-5, doi:10.2760/539520, JRC109869

FAO (2016). The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016. Contributing to food security and nutrition for all. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Rome. 200 pp.

García-Condado, S., López-Lozano, R., Nisini, L., Cerrani, I., Van der Velde, M., Baruth, B. (2017). Assessing EU crop residue production using empirical models of biomass partitioning. Part 2: current scenario and drivers of inter-annual variability in residue biomass production across EU. In preparation.