Strategic uses for ancillary bioenergy in a carbon-neutral and fossil-free 2050 European energy system

Fei Wu*, Adrian Muller, Stefan Pfenninger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Downloads (Pure)


Biomass is a growing renewable energy source in Europe and is envisioned to play a role for realising carbon neutrality, predominantly using dedicated energy crops. However, dedicated biomass is controversial for reasons including its competition with food production or its land-use and emissions impacts. Here we examine the potential role of a land-free alternative: ancillary bioenergy (AB) from biomass sources not primarily grown for energy and without land/food/feed competition. We provide the first dataset of 2050 ancillary biomass potential using the agricultural system model SOLm, which encompasses untapped by-/co-products and detailed agricultural residues. Results show that there is a limited future potential for AB in Europe (2394-10 342 PJ, which is 3-6 times lower than other estimates including dedicated biomass). We design and investigate alternative scenarios where this bioenergy resource can be fully utilised, not utilised at all, or utilised optimally by the sector-coupled energy system model Euro-Calliope. We find that fully utilising ancillary biomass can help phase out controversial nuclear or land-intensive dedicated biomass, so might achieve higher societal acceptability. Using all ancillary biomass as a negative-emissions source at stationary bioenergy carbon capture and storage plants in a nuclear-free system provides additional climate benefits. It is also possible to leave the AB potential completely unused, which barely increases total system cost, but would preserve agricultural nutrients. We conclude that there are synergies and trade-offs among possible strategic uses of AB, which can provide guidelines for a more coherent European bioenergy strategy. Although the 2050 potential of AB is limited, our findings suggest that it could fill critical strategic niches for realising carbon-neutrality.
Original languageEnglish
Article number014019
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • carbon-neutrality
  • energy policy
  • renewable energy systems optimisation
  • sector-coupling
  • sustainable bioenergy


Dive into the research topics of 'Strategic uses for ancillary bioenergy in a carbon-neutral and fossil-free 2050 European energy system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this