The use of agricultural biomass has the potential to make a significant contribution to a future sustainable energy system in Austria. Besides driving factors, there are also barriers and controversial aspects of an enhanced production of energy crops, which need to be assessed. In this project the following aspects of agricultural biomass and bioenergy production are analyzed:

(1) The willingness and initiative of farmers is a precondition for increasing energy production from agricultural biomass. Based on interviews with farmers and stakeholders, the relevant decision-making structures, motivations and barriers are analyzed and incorporated in an agent-based simulation model. (2) The natural conditions (soil, radiation, precipitation etc.) of agricultural land in Austria, together with the requirements of the different crop species are a major determining factor for an enhanced energy crop production. A spatially explicit modelling approach (GIS-model) is used to analyze the constraints which arise from the natural conditions and to derive scenarios for the arable land use in Austria. (3) Agro-economic aspects of agricultural bioenergy, as well as implications for the food and feed production are investigated, using simulation and optimization models. (4) The economics of various options of energy generation from agricultural biomass are analyzed for different scenarios and based on an economic simulation model for the Austrian bioenergy sector.

The results of the interviews reveal a wide range of inhibitory as well as supporting factors for agricultural energy production. The results of the agent-based model show that particularly unfavourable agricultural conditions together with advantageous conditions for bioenergy can result in a strong trend towards agricultural energy production. Taking into account the different decision-making structures, farm types and sizes etc., the model results indicate that in the year 2030, depending on the agricultural and energy economic conditions, 4 to 30% of the total agricultural land (arable land and grassland) are used for bioenergy production. The results of the GIS-model show that an enhanced production of energy crops can basically be brought in line with environmental aspects, since the requirements of energy crops are often better suited for the natural conditions than those of conventional crops. However, the agro-economic analyses illustrate the increasing competition for land that is associated with an enhanced cultivation of energy crops. This is likely to result in a reduction of food and feed production, especially of wheat and grain maize.

The simulations of the bioenergy sector show that the future role of biomass for the Austrian energy supply depends heavily on both energy policy framework conditions and (particularly with regard to agricultural biomass) on fossil fuel price developments. Apart from that, the efficiency of agricultural bioenergy production (with regard to the amount and costs of greenhouse gas mitigation and substitution of fossil fuels) is highly influenced by the choice of plant species. The best cost-benefit-ratios are achieved with ligno-cellulosic plants (short rotation coppice), primarily due to the good economic performance of the heat generation with woody biomass. For the production of biogas (and biomethane, respectively) the utilization of waste material, surplus material from grassland and (under the precondition of adequate support schemes) of catch crops should be favoured.


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