Innovative value chains from tree and shrub species grown in marginal lands as a source of biomass for bio-based industries
Despite being one of the largest markets in the world for biochemicals, very few biomass-derived compounds are being developed here in Europe. However, the bioresources – particularly in the form of forest biomass – are abundantly available. These offer a high-quality, low-cost feedstock for a range of industries and applications.
However, one of the challenges of forest biomass is to avoid adverse effects on, or excessive competition with, existing bio-based sectors that also rely on forests, such as the pulp and paper industry. It must also not impinge on land required for food production. The solution, therefore, is to use so-called ‘marginal land’ – land with strong biophysical constrains where the cost of cultivation outstrips the value of the crop.
The BeonNAT project seeks to demonstrate the viability of the use of such marginal lands – estimated at a total area of more than 4 million km2 in the EU28 – to source forest biomass for the production of high added value bio-products. It will plant tree and shrub species in relevant locations. As well as providing a source of biomass, the BeonNAT project will also contribute to protecting biodiversity and improve soil fertility and organic carbon stocks. In addition to providing excellent economic opportunities for Europe’s bio-based economy, it will also create new jobs in rural areas, helping reduce the risk of depopulation.
The overarching objective of the BeonNAT project is to create added-value bio-based products through growing underused tree and shrub species in marginal land areas in Germany, Romania and Spain.
Within this, the BeonNAT project will pursue a number of specific objectives, namely to:
- Select the most promising underutilised tree and shrub species, based on their ecological requisites and chemical profile. There will be six species from two origins in each of the three sites.
- Fully secure the forest-based biomass supply chain needed to feed biorefineries while pursuing sustainable harvesting and logistical techniques.
- Assess the relative benefits of intercropping/mixed-plantations in marginal forest or agricultural land and monospecific growing in each of the three European countries.
- Define suitable agricultural and forest marginal land in Spain, Germany and Romania to grow the BeonNAT feedstock and identify potential marginal lands in the countries to ensure future supply.
By achieving its overall objectives, the BeonNAT project will contribute to increasing the supply of bio-based chemicals using previously untapped land resources. In so doing, it will also increase knowledge of the most effective trees and shrubs to use as feedstock. It will also make contributions to specific BBI JU KPIs through:
- Establishing a number of new cross-sectoral interconnections in the biobased economy. These connections will be between the chemical, cosmetic, health care, pet and packaging sectors.
- Creating a multiple new bio-based value chain approach. This will feature new industrial sources of feedstock, new prototype designs, new green extractions and purification technologies and developing new materials (or products) with new properties (and characteristics).
- Validating a new and improved processing technology that will progress from Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) 2 and 3 to TRL 4 and eventually to TRL 6.
In addition, the BeonNAT project will deliver a number of positive environmental effects. It will:
- Diversify the range of forest-based biomass that can be exploited for bio-based value chains while avoiding indirect land use change (ILUC) issues.
- Positively impact biodiversity and the ecosystem by restoring marginal lands, reducing deforestation and forest degradation and preserving forest genetics.
- Mitigate against climate change and the impact of extreme weather events.