The Role of Perennial Biomass Crops in a Growing Bioeconomy

  • I. LewandowskiEmail author
Conference paper


The growth of a European bioeconomy will require an increased supply of sustainably produced biomass. The aim of this chapter is to discuss how perennial biomass crops (PBC) can contribute to the sustainable intensification of agriculture and the sustainable supply of biomass in Europe.

PBC produce high yields with low inputs and can be cultivated on marginal land. However, less than 50,000 ha (ha) of PBC are presently grown in the EU. The reasons include:
  1. 1.

    Biomass production costs are still too high;

  2. 2.

    There is a lack of stable markets for PBC biomass and the biomass is used for low-value applications; and

  3. 3.

    Farmers’ interest and acceptance is low.


These challenges can be overcome by the development of (among others) efficient and stress-tolerant PBC cultivars, efficient and low-cost crop management and agricultural technologies, and high-value applications for lignocellulosic biomass.

Significant potential for the production PBC in the EU is seen in the use of marginal or contaminated land. These soils can even be ameliorated by PBC. Other opportunities include the integration of PBC into farming systems. This can help farmers make better use of land that is less suitable for food production and at the same time improve its ecological performance by, for example, reducing nitrate leaching or erosion. There is also considerable potential for PBC to replace less sustainably produced biomass. An example of this is miscanthus, which can replace maize as a biogas substrate. These opportunities should be accompanied by the development of high-value applications and the on-farm biorefining of PCB biomass.


Perennial biomass crops Bioeconomy Environmental benign biomass supply Marginal land Barriers Integration into farming systems 


  1. Allen B, Kretschmer B, Baldock D, Menadue H, Nanni S, Tucker G (2014) Space for energy crops—assessing the potential contribution to Europe’s energy future. Report produced for BirdLife Europe, European Environmental Bureau and Transport & Environment. IEEP, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Dornburg V, van Vuuren D, van de Ven G et al. (2010) Bioenergy revisited: Key factors in global potentials of bioenergy. Energy & Environmental Science, 3:258–267Google Scholar
  3. Fargione J, Hill J, Tilamn D, Polasky S, Hawthorne P (2008) Land clearing and the biofuel carbon dept. Science 319:1235–1238CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Lado LR, Hengl T, Reuter HI (2008) Heavy metals in European soils: a geostatistical analysis of the FOREGS geochemical database. Geoderma 148(2008):189–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Lewandowski I (2015) Securing a sustainable biomass supply in a growing bioeconomy. Global Food Security 6:34–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Lewandowski I, Schmidt U, Londo M, Faaij A (2006) The economic value of the phytoremediation function. Agr Syst 89(1):68–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Lewandowski I, Kalinina O, Kiesel A, Clifton-Brown J et al (2015) OPTIMISC—developing Miscanthus production systems for marginal lands. European Biomass Conference and Exhibition Proceedings, Vienna 2015, 6–8Google Scholar
  8. McCalmont JP, Hastings A, McNamara NP, Richter GM, Robson P, Donnison IS, Clifton-Brown J (2015) Environmental costs and benefits of growing Miscanthus for bioenergy in the UK. GCB-Bioenergy. doi: 10.1111/gcbb.12294Google Scholar
  9. Pretty J, Toulmin C, Williams S (2011) Sustainable intensification in African agriculture. Int J Agric Sustain 9(1):5–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Pogrzeba M, Krzyżak J, Sas-Nowosielska A, Majtkowski W, Małkowski E, Kita A (2011) A heavy metal environmental threat resulting from combustion of biofuels of plant origin. In: L.I. Simeonov, et al. (Eds.) Environmental Heavy Metal Pollution And Effects On Child Mental Development: Risk Assessment And Prevention Strategies, Springer Science+Business Media B.V., 213–225Google Scholar
  11. Pogrzeba M, Krzyżak J, Sas-Nowosielska A (2013) Environmental hazards related to Miscanthus x giganteus cultivation on heavy metal contaminated soil. E3S Web of Conferences 1, 29006Google Scholar
  12. Scarlat N, Dallemand JF, Monforti-Ferario F, Nita V (2015) The role of biomass and bioenergy in a future bioeconomy: policies and facts. Environ Dev 15:3–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Searchinger T, Heimlich R, Houghton RA, Dong F, Elobeid A, Fabiosa J, Tokgoz S, Hayes D, Yu T (2008) Use of US croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change. Science 319:1238–1240CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. Staffas L, Gustavsson M, McCormick K (2013) Strategies and policies for the bioeconomy and bio-Based economy: an analysis of official national approaches. Sustainability, 5:2751–2769Google Scholar
  15. van Dam JEG, de Klerk-Engels B, Struik PC, Rabbinge R (2005) Securing renewable resource supplies for changing market demands in a bio-based economy. Ind Crop Prod 21(1):129–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Zhu X-G, Long SP, Ort DR (2010) Improving photosynthetic efficiency for greater yield. Annu Rev Plant Biol 61:235–261CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biobased Products and Energy Crops (340b), Institute of Crop ScienceUniversity of HohenheimStuttgartGermany

Personalised recommendations