H2a) Riverine biomass for a bio-economy

Swinda Pfau

"Comparing the carbon footprint of different applications of riverine biomass and its current usage by Dutch river management organizations"

Practical Motivation

The land surrounding rivers is characterized by arable soils and high vegetation growth. Where floodplains are not occupied by agricultural production, vegetation must often be removed to ensure sufficient discharge capacities during high water levels. This is especially the case in densely populated areas, such as the Rhine delta in the Netherlands. Here, organizations concerned with the river management are interested in using biomass from riverine vegetation as ecosystem service. Riverine biomass can serve as resource for the bio-economy and can be considered an Ecosystem Service, contributing to a more self-supporting river system. In this project, we compare the carbon footprint of different applications of riverine biomass and analyze how biomass use is currently organized by Dutch river management organizations.

Management phase: Evaluation & Adjustment |

Management goals: Feasibility & Sustainability | Maintenance Efficiency |

Different types of riverine vegetation, left: Vecht, right: Ewijkse plaat, Waal. (Source: Photos by Swinda Pfau, 2015)

Research Aim

It is expected that biomass can be valorised as an input material in the upcoming bio-economy for the production of bio-energy or bio-based materials. Currently, river management organisations in the Rhine delta consider several uses of residual biomass released during floodplain management. It is unclear which applications contribute to sustainability and how river management organisations approach a responsible use of biomass as ecosystem service. This brings with it two important questions that we are looking at: which applications are the most sustainable? And how do river management organisations approach the use of ecosystem services, ensuring societal responsible use of biomass?

Temporal scale: Midterm evolution (10-50 years) | Recent evolution (1-10years) |


  • Analysis comparing several biomass uses currently applied or considered by river management organisations (in cooperation with Menno Straatsma, H1 and Remon Koopman, E2). The goal is to analyse the impacts on greenhouse gas emissions of using residual riverine biomass as ecosystem service.
  • Policy analysis of biomass use by river management organisations and the corresponding procedural arrangements for implementation (in cooperation with Astrid Bout, H2).

Data-collection methods: Interviews | Life Cycle Assessment |

Floodplain at Nijmegen (Source: Photo by Swinda Pfau,2012 )

Main progress and next steps

  • Residual biomass is not a silver bullet but is only seldom purely waste and regularly fulfills other functions, such as maintaining soil quality or providing habitats. The benefits of extracting residual biomass for new applications have to outweigh the loss of their former function.
  • River management organisations have various motivations to use residual biomass as an ecosystem service, for example improving the natural quality, using materials that are currently treated as waste and cooperating well with farmers.
  • We are now comparing various applications of biomass regarding their carbon footprint and analyzing their overall potential for different applications in a large part of the Dutch Rhine delta.

Study areas

Key study areas: Ijssel river (The Netherlands) | Nederrijn-Lek river (The Netherlands) | Waal river (The Netherlands)

Last modified: 17/06/2018

Main researcher

Swinda Pfau

Supervisory team

dr. Ben Dankbaar


Prof.dr. Toine Smits


Contributing partners

Rijkswaterstaat Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management

Gelderland Province

ARCADIS Nederland BV


Radboud University Nijmegen

Utrecht University

University of Twente

NWO Applied and Engineering Sciences

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Publications list

Jump to: Article | Conference contribution



Pfau, S. F., Hagens, J. E., & Dankbaar, B. (2017). Biogas between renewable energy and bio-economy policies—opportunities and constraints resulting from a dual role. Energy, Sustainability and Society, 7, 17. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13705-017-0120-5

Conference contribution


Pfau, S.F. (2015). Residual Biomass: A Silver Bullet to Ensure a Sustainable Bioeconomy?. Proceedings of the European Conference on Sustainability, Energy and the Environment 2015, pp. 295-312.


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Project group
Project H

Contact details

Swinda Pfau

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