The purpose of this study is to analyse the economical and environmental performance of switchgrass and miscanthus production and supply chains in the European Union (EU25), for the years 2004 and 2030. The environmental performance refers to the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, the primary fossil energy use and to the impact on fresh water reserves, soil erosion and biodiversity. Analyses are carried out for regions in five countries. The lowest costs of producing (including storing and transporting across 100 km) in the year 2004 are calculated for Poland, Hungary and Lithuania at 43–64 € per oven dry tonne (odt) or 2.4–3.6 € GJ−1 higher heating value. This cost level is roughly equivalent to the price of natural gas (3.1 € GJ−1) and lower than the price of crude oil (4.6 € GJ−1) in 2004, but higher than the price of coal (1.7 € GJ−1) in 2004. The costs of biomass in Italy and the United Kingdom are somewhat higher (65–105 € odt−1 or 3.6–5.8 € GJ−1). The doubling of the price of crude oil and natural gas that is projected for the period 2004–2030, combined with nearly stable biomass production costs, makes the production of perennial grasses competitive with natural gas and fossil oil. The results also show that the substitution of fossil fuels by biomass from perennial grasses is a robust strategy to reduce fossil energy use and curb GHG emissions, provided that perennial grasses are grown on agricultural land (cropland or pastures). However, in such case deep percolation and runoff of water are reduced, which can lead to overexploitation of fresh water reservoirs. This can be avoided by selecting suitable locations (away from direct accessible fresh water reservoirs) and by limiting the size of the plantations. The impacts on biodiversity are generally favourable compared to conventional crops, but the location of the plantation compared to other vegetation types and the size and harvesting regime of the plantation are important variables.

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Edward M.W. Smeets
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