The Directive 26 March 2009 on the promotion of electricity use produced from renewable sources (which replaces and integrates the Directive 2001/77/EC and 2003/30/EC), includes "biomass" in the list of renewable energy resources.
"Biomass" is defined as "the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues of biological origin from agriculture (including vegetal and animal substances), from forestry activities and related industries including fish farming and aquaculture, and including the biodegradable fraction of municipal and industrial waste."
The legislator, however, with the term "biodegradable" intends something different from its scientific meaning which would assume considering only matters which may be demolished or metabolized by biological systems such as bacteria, fungi, etc.
It is now widely accepted that the spirit and substance of the above definitions are related to the photosynthesis product and, more generally, the metabolism of plant and animal species that follow one another in food chains. In essence, then, when everything is of biogenic origin.
To exclude fossil fuels, which also are of biogenic origin, "biomass" needs to be intended as of "recent" biogenic origin, where the term "recent" is used to cover the average age of photosynthesis and animal and plant metabolism products in general that can actually be found in waste or that properly represent biomass.
The use of biomass for the production of electricity and heat helps to limit carbon dioxide emissions, since the CO2 emitted for energy production does not represent an increase in carbon dioxide present in the environment, but it is the same that the plants have absorbed during their development, and that when dead would return to the atmosphere through the normal degradation processes of organic matter.
RSE activities in this field include:
• Study of corrosion problems for plants operating with co-combustion coal-biomasses/CDR, that to-date limit the recourse to such technology, which is advantageous as it reduces net greenhouse gas emissions with reasonable investments
• Development, validation, demonstration and transfer of methods for monitoring and controlling emissions from plants powered by biomasses, or waste containing biomasses, or operating with co-combustion coal-biomass/CDR (fuel from waste)
• Contribution to the regulation of a reference method to determine the biodegradable fraction of urban and industrial waste, by measuring radiocarbon emissions and development of alternate methods based on waste composition and on the balance of mass and energy in waste-to-energy plants (code OBAMA)
• Study of environmental sustainability concerning the use of biomass for energy production in relation to the local social and economic reality, the availability and actual usability of biomass
• Model study of the secondary atmospheric pollution problems from the energy use of biomass, with particular reference to secondary aerosol of organic origin
• Experimentation of innovative biomass generation systems, suited to the integration in micro-networks: functional check, in terms of performance and reliability, of co-generators based on organic Rankine cycle micro-turbines, internal combustion engines, fuel cells
• Development and experimentation of different types of microbial fuel cells fit to generate electricity by degrading organic substance through natural degradation and fermentation processes
• Promotion of the development of biomass plants, through innovative demonstration activities to organizations with strong involvement in local communities and that can set good examples. In this context, collaborations with entities and local organizations (ex. the City of Gorgonzola and district heating plant in Sondalo) have been activated for efficient use of biomass in order to produce energy.