The European Union's energy commissioner Andris Piebalgs has announced a new initiative to grow the biomass fuel industry in the region.

The new action plan will present several measures to speed up the use of biomass energy (wood, wastes and agricultural crops) in the transport, electricity production and heating and cooling sectors. Doubling the use of biomass energy should help the EU achieve its goal of bringing renewables’ share of the energy mix from 6% to 12% by 2010.

Currently, the EU meets about 4% of its energy requirements from biomass. The union has already adopted targets for the use of biofuels for transport in 2003 with the directive on the promotion of biofuels.

In that directive, the EU committed itself to increasing the market share for biofuels for transport to 2% by 2005 and to 5.75% by 2010, but the 2005 objective will certainly not be met. The commission will therefore adopt a new position on the implementation of the biofuels directive in 2006.

More use of biomass in the EU’s energy mix may reduce its dependence on imports of oil and gas to secure its energy supply. It may also help reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (although some energy experts question this as biomass energy also emits carbon in certain circumstances).

Equally, one of the parallel drivers of the EU’s interest in biomass and biofuels is that it provides new opportunities for farmers at a time when the Common Agricultural Policy is going through serious reforms.