Short-rotation coppicing: No credible option for fuelling new biomass plants in Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Elektroprivreda BiH (EPBiH) is proposing to at least partly convert two coal plant units in Bosnia and Herzegovina to biomass. The company has stated that it would rely largely on Short-Rotation Coppicing (SRC), namely fast-growing willow plantations, grown primarily on former opencast coal mine sites, but with
additional purchases from farmers when required. The possibility of establishing Paulownia plantations for biomass sourcing has also been mentioned.

Paulownia tree plantations have not been successfully established anywhere in the world, and larger-scale plantings in Australia and New Zealand ended in failure and, for some farmers, loss of livelihoods. An economic analysis of a small-scale trial in Italy suggests that Paulownia could only be economic if grown  or high-value timber products, with only the residues used for energy. There are no credible reasons to assume that large-scale plantations of a tree species never successfully grown in plantations anywhere in the world could be established in Bosnia & Herzegovina in the near future.

In some European countries, willow and poplar have been grown in SRC plantations for several decades, but only on a very limited scale and with government
subsidies. IEA [International Energy Agency] Bioenergy states that, based on case studies from seven countries, the average yield of SRC willow grown on farmland is 7 oven dried tonnes per hectare per year. Based on that figure, the proposed 50 MWe biomass unit in Tuzla would require around 29,000 hectares  of land, which is more than twice the size of the city of Sarajevo.

Furthermore, SRC willow requires more water than conventional arable crops, i.e. it is far from drought resistant. An EPBiH trial to grow SRC willow on a former opencast mining site appears to have failed. A similar trial in the Appalachians in the USA was more successful in so far as most of the saplings
survived after two years, however, harvesting that willow was still not economically viable and yields were lower than for SRC willow grown on farmland.

Furthermore, according to EPBiH, less than 800 hectares of suitable former coal mine sites would be available – a small proportion of the land needed to grow
sufficient willow to fuel even one 50 MWe plant.

In practice, and based on experiences across Europe, there is no realistic possibility of fuelling even one, let alone three of the proposed biomass projects
with wood from SRC. Once built or converted, those units will have to burn biomass that is readily available – and that will almost certainly mean burning forest
wood, in a region where intensive and often illegal logging is already rampant.