During a lecture held at the Trento Festival of Economics on June 05, 2022, forestry economics expert Alessandro Dolcetti claimed that “the European Union argues that the use of biomass for energy purposes is a problem. The best use of wood is for construction purposes” .
According to the latest Report on the Use of Biomass for Energy Production in the European Union, Europe’s position on biomass production is ambiguous. While it supports the growth of this energy source as a mean of divestment from fossil fuels, it is yet concerned about “[…] the intensification of forest management for additional biomass production, [because it] can increase pressures on forest ecosystems at the local level” .
The concern specifically refers to the 63 % share of the total wood used in the EU going to bioenergy production in 2015 . In quantitative terms, the study also shows that 59.2 % of all renewable sources used in the EU are represented by bioenergy.
Looking at the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, the Report clearly specifies that a sharp increase in demand for bioenergy is expected, which translates into a direct increase in demand for wood and woody biomass. Specifically, three ways for additional biomass production are identified by the Report: (1) increased harvesting of wood residues; (2) afforestation/reforestation; and (3) conversion of natural forests to plantations .
Dolcetti’s analysis of the situation in Italy – and especially Trentino and Veneto – is very different from the one depicted by the European fears of timber shortages and fits well into this discussion.
In Trentino, a notable project of 2011-2012 defined and quantified the use of woody biomass in the Province of Trento. At the time, the “Biomasfor” project proposed a holistic model for evaluating sustainable forest bioenergy. What emerged is a deficit of woody material to use for energy purposes. Specifically, 30 % of Trentino’s total needs .
As a solution, the project recommended “the activation of an efficient harvest of agricultural residues from an already well-organized and structed sector (apple orchards and vineyards), [thus determining] source differentiation and income integration for Trentino farms” .
In any case, an increase of tree felling and sawing activities to produce greater quantities of energy wood residues and chips was seen as unreasonable by the predictions of that time. Further and more recent analyses of Trentino’s biomass sector state-of-the-art are not available to date. The opinion of Trentino artisans, however, seem to draw attention to the changed economic and social condition of Trentino compared to a decade ago. “The 140 sawmill and packaging firms, with about 1300 employees, process an average of 1 million cubic meters of rebar in Trentino, but the availability is 500 thousand cubic meters. That means that we buy half of it from outside the Province of Trento. The point is that 1 million cubic meters of processed rebar produces 1.2 million stero meters of by-products, waste from sawmills, 45-47 % of which is not used in Trentino” .