International Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e. V.


Energy crops

Production of biomass by cultivating energy crops

Energy crops are grown with the objective to use their biomass for energy generation, thereby save fossil energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They play a leading role for energy supply and climate protection goals in Germany: energy crops are the source of energy of tomorrow.

According to estimates of FNR Germany could cover up to 23% of its demand for heat, electricity and fuels in the year 2050 by domestic biomass. About half of it can be generated through the utilisation of energy crops. Even though energy from biomass already today contributes to the total energy production substantially, further sustainable extension of the cultivation of energy crops is required in the future, which is in accordance with nature and environmental protection and avoids usage competitions as far as possible.   

For energy crops the utilisation possibilities are distinguished as follows:

  • Conversion into gasesous bioenergy sources: biogas for electricity and heat production
  • Conversion into liquid bioenergy sources: biofuels and heating fuels
  • Utilisation as solid bioenergy sources: combustion or thermochemical gasification of solid fuels (wood and straw-based bionergy sources).

Energy crops can be devided into annual and perennial energy crops. The utilisation of algae for biomass supply is also examined currently.

In Germany especially rape, maize, beets and grain are cultivated as annual energy crops. These crops are usually cultivated in multiple crop rotations. Innovative cropping systems like mixed cultivation or two-crop systems can provide interesting options with regards to a diversified, ecological focus for the cultivation of energy crops.

Perennial energy crops offer favourable conditions for the energetic use of biomass and cover, in contrast to annual crops, the same cultivation areas for several years. In Germany they still are developed by breeding or cultivation techniques, so that their cultivation on a larger scale is still in its early stages. Examples for perennial energy crops are short-rotation wood, Miscanthus, Mixed Silphie and wild plants.

The utilisation of algal biomass as a sustainable raw material source for the production of bioenergy is currently negligible and further research is needed.

The cultivation of energy crops has often been discussed in public controversially. Expansions of monocultures, loss of biodiversity and usage competitions are parts of this topic. To counteract these trends and to increase the variety of energy crops and strengthen biodiversity, FNR promotes on behalf of BMEL the research of alternative energy crops and cultivation systems, e.g. by means of the joint project EVA.

If you would like to know more about energy crops, please follow this link to the automatically translated pages.

Silphie (Source: © FNR / D. Gerhard)