European biorefineries: Implications for land, trade and employment
Biorefineries are expected to play a major role in a future low carbon economy and substantial investments are being made to support this vision. However, it is important to consider the wider socio-economic impacts of such a transition. This paper quantifies the potential trade, employment and land impacts of economically viable European biorefinery options based on indigenous straw and wood feedstocks. It illustrates how there could be potential for 70–80 European biorefineries, but not hundreds. A single facility could generate tens of thousands of man-years of employment and employment creation per unit of feedstock is higher than for biomass power plants. However, contribution to national GDP is unlikely to exceed 1% in European member states, although contributions to national agricultural productivity may be more significant, particularly with straw feedstocks. There is also a risk that biorefinery development could result in reduced rates of straw incorporation into soil, raising concerns that economically rational decisions to sell rather than reincorporate straw could result in increased agricultural land-use or greenhouse gas emissions.