Development of Wood-Based Biomass (Biofuel) Production in Russia
WWF-Russia’s Position on the Development of Wood-Based Biomass (Biofuel) Production in Russia
In recent years, some major European consumers of biofuel and international producers of pellets are more and more interested in Russian raw wood materials. In 2009, the European Union committed to increasing the share of renewable sources in energy production, which includes the use of wood-based biofuel. It is planned to increase this share to at least 27% by 2030.
In five years from 2015 to 2019, the export of Russian pellets increased almost twofold: from 0.93 to 1.94 million tons. At the same time, 90% of all pellets produced in the country are exported to Europe and 5% are to Asia. The share of the domestic consumption remains insignificant. The largest power plant in Europe (in the UK) which uses wood as a biofuel consumes about 7.2 million tons per year by comparison. There is still considerable potential for further growth in biofuel production and export in Russia.
WWF-Russia admits that initiatives for the sustainable production and promotion of wood-based fuel can contribute to a more complete use of wood, including solving the acute problem of recycling sawmill, woodworking and pulp and paper mill waste as well as felling residues and low-grade wood. It can be implemented only if a number of conditions are met that will prevent potential negative environmental, social, and economic consequences:
- Priority should be given to the use of wood in solid form, as wood-based panels, fiber, chemical products, while it is also assumed that the products will be reused, if possible, during recycling. The use of wood as a biofuel should be the last in this series and should not allow competing with other wood uses.
- Only sawmill, wood processing, and pulp and paper mill waste as well as felling residues and low-grade wood, including those after thinning, should be used for biomass production if this wood is not demanded for the production of other products. It is unacceptable to harvest wood specifically for biofuel on the forest lands. Currently, WWF-Russia considers it possible to use forests on abandoned agricultural lands  for the fuel biomass production, including through the creation of forest plantations specifically for biofuels .
- When using forests for fuel biomass, companies must ensure that some organic matter remains in forest ecosystems in order to maintain their nutrient content and prevent forest degradation. Soil, stumps, and roots should always be left on logging sites (excluding some cases of pest control and forest diseases).
- When producing biomass, companies should take into account the interests of local communities and support traditional forest uses by local people. Forest areas of social and cultural significance should be identified and protected.
- Increased demand for wood-based biofuel may lead to an increase in illegal logging. Companies should strictly control the legality of the wood origin (felling residues, low-grade wood), exclude the possibility of wood of unknown origin entering the production and ensure special control over the wood coming after salvage logging, since this type of forest management is now subject to the greatest risks of offenses.
- At present, when the risks of illegal logging and wood sourced from unsustainably managed forests and forests of high environmental and social value are high, the priority should be given to wood sourced from FSC-certified forests and in the case of sawmill, woodworking and pulp and paper mill waste is from FSC-certified mills.
- When developing biofuel production, companies should prioritize its use for local needs, which will also contribute to reducing domestic CO2 emissions. Pellets and briquettes are preferred for long-distance transportation. At the same time, it should be taken into account that transportation itself requires the use of energy and, accordingly, reduces the efficiency of using biofuels.
 Due to the recent changes in Russian legislation, it has become possible to use forests on agricultural lands for wood harvesting (Decree of the Government of the Russian Federation No. 1509 of September 21, 2020 "On the features of the use, protection, safeguard, and reproduction of forests on agricultural lands").
 As the legislation on forest management on agricultural lands develops, WWF-Russia will form additional environmental and social requirements that will help reduce the risks of illegal logging and ecosystem degradation as a result of uncontrolled and irresponsible forest management on such lands and to avoid competing with the use of these lands for agriculture.