Sustainability constraints in determining European bioenergy potential: A review of existing studies and steps forward

Ingeborg Kluts*, Birka Wicke, Rik Leemans, André Faaij

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


This paper reviews European land and bioenergy potential studies to 1) identify shortcomings related to how they account for agricultural intensification and its associated environmental effects, and sustainability constraints, and 2) provide suggestions on how these shortcomings can be improved in future assessments. The key shortcomings are: The environmental impacts of intensification are nearly always ignored in the reviewed studies, while these impacts should be accounted for if intensification is required to make land available for energy cropping. Future productivity developments of crops and livestock, and the associated land-use and environmental effects are currently limited to conventional intensification measures whereby the proportion between inputs and outputs is fixed. Sustainable intensification measures, which increase land productivity with similar or lower inputs, are ignored in the reviewed studies. Livestock productivity developments, livestock specific intensification measures and their environmental effects are poorly or not at all covered in the reviewed studies. Most studies neglect sustainability constraints other than GHG emissions in the selection of energy crops. This includes limitations to rainfed energy crop cultivation, a minimum number of crop species, the structural diversity within cropping areas and the integration of energy crops in existing or new crop rotations, while simultaneously considering the effects on subsequent crops. These shortcomings suggest that the identification of sustainable pathways for European bioenergy production requires a more integrative approach combining land demand for food, feed and energy crop production, including different intensification pathways, and the consequent direct and indirect environmental impacts. A better inclusion of management practices into such approach will improve the assessment of intensification, its environmental consequences and the sustainable bioenergy potential from agricultural feedstocks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-734
JournalRenewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Bioenergy
  • Biomass
  • Europe
  • Land use
  • Potential
  • Review


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