The Second SEEMLA International Symposium at EUBCE 2018
The 2nd SEEMLA International Symposium was held in Copenhagen on 15th May during the EUBCE, the 26th European Biomass Conference organised by ETA Florence. The symposium was divided into three panels: the first one on the SEEMLA project and its interim results, the second one on other projects in the field of marginal land and the third one on policies around bioenergy and marginal lands.
In the first panel, the results achieved by the project during the first two years were illustrated, highlighting the so-called “SEEMLA approach”, an integrated set of processes, analyses and tools that incorporates environmental, ecological, social, economic and biophysical criteria, whose objective is that of biomass production avoiding the “food vs. fuel” conflict.
The SEEMLA approach, implemented by the project, started from the identification and mapping of the marginal lands in Europe and then assessed the yield potential of bioenergy crops grown on marginal lands.
One of the aspects addressed was related to the environmental and socio-economic impacts of bioenergy from lignocellulosic crops grown on marginal land in Europe, which were examined through the Life Cycle Assessment tool, supplemented by a Life Cycle Environmental Impact Assessment (LC-EIA), able to adequately address local environmental impacts.
Another useful tool realized by the project is the SEEMLA Web application, one of the most challenging tasks, which provides assistance on the identification of marginal lands and its exploitation potential for biomass production. The web application works as an M-SQR calculator for localized assessments: the assessment of the soil is measured, the application calculates the M-SQR value and determines whether the land is marginal and which bioenergy crops can be grown on this specific parcel.
The second panel involved other European and national projects related to the issue of bioenergy. These included representatives from FORBIO (Fostering sustainable feedstock production for advanced biofuels on underutilised land in Europe), MAGIC (MArginal Lands for Growing Industrial Crops), GRACE (GRowing Advanced Industrial Crops on marginal lands for biorEfineries), SIGNAL (Sustainable intensification of agriculture through agroforestry in Germany), and a project on the “Cultivation of energy crops on former mining sites in Vietnam”.
The last panel focused on policies: first, Maria Georgiadou, from the Renewable Energy Sources Unit of the European Commission (DG Research & Innovation) provided the European point of view on clean energy innovation and about opportunities and challenges for bioenergy & renewable fuels in the European context. The symposium ended with an open discussion, which involved the key representatives of the meeting.
In all three panels, it became clear that further research is necessary since there are still a number of challenges connected with marginal land. The moderator of the panel identified the following three ones:
- First of all, marginal land needs to be defined (which is far from easy) and identified in a spatially explicit manner using GIS tools. As said above, the SEEMLA GIS tool aims exactly to quantify and localise marginal lands in Europe, using biophysical criteria to map them. By the way, there is still a big remaining challenge which is to identify unused marginal land since only unused marginal land is ‘iLUC-free’, i.e. doesn’t lead to conflicts with food and feed production.
- Secondly, agronomists and plant breeders need to identify and provide suitable crops and varieties with can cope with the harsh growing conditions on marginal land. A successful cultivation of non-food crops is the cornerstone of a successful value chain. This can be regarded as a bottom-up approach from the field to the market.
- However, thirdly, it is also necessary to take a top-down view from a market perspective (in terms of biomass composition and quality) back to the field in order to select suitable crops for which there is a market demand.
Today, we are in a chicken-and-egg situation: there is relatively little cultivation of perennial crops because farmers need long-term contracts with biomass users, which in turn don’t consider using perennial crops because there is only little such biomass available. With regard to marginal land, biomass logistics play a crucial role since it is expected that marginal land is often scattered in the landscape, consisting of small plots and not properly connected to the road network.
This might require extra efforts regarding storage (e.g. technical drying and pelleting) which increase costs for the biomass user.
Another important conclusion is related to the environmental assessment. The discussion showed that bioenergy from marginal lands can provide potentials for climate change mitigation together with comparatively low (other) environmental impacts – as far as typical LCA impact categories are concerned. However, LCA is not (yet) able to adequately address local environmental impacts, e.g. negative impacts on biodiversity, water and soil. Thus, a potential conflict between climate change mitigation and prevention of (further) biodiversity loss was identified. That means decision makers should not only take into consideration the Paris Agreement but also lower the rate of biodiversity loss, a planetary boundary which humanity has already transgressed.
1 W.BAUMGARTEN _Seemla Overview_2018
2 V.IVANINA_Understanding Marginal Lands
3 N. RETTENMAIER_Environmental and socio economic impact
4 I.GNAP_Pilot cases
5 S.GALATSIDAS_GIS Application
6 FORBIO_SEEMLA Symposium
7 MAGIC_SEEMLA Symposium
8 GRACE_SEEMLA Symposium
9 BONARES_SEEMLA Symposium
10 CPEP_SEEMLA Symposium
12 M. GEORGIADOU_DG Research and Innovation