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Welcome to the archives of the IEA OPEN Energy Technology Bulletin, a free newsletter from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and its Committee on Energy Research and Technology. The OPEN Bulletin provides regular updates on activities within the IEA's energy technology and R&D community that are contributing to energy security and protection of the environment and climate worldwide.


Special Issue-IEA Bioenergy
No. 15 - 20th Novem
ber 2003

Currently, commercial and non-commercial uses of biomass provide some 11% of the world’s primary energy supplies. For tomorrow, modern use of bioenergy offers cost-effective, sustainable opportunities to meet a significant proportion of world energy demand while helping to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

This special issue of the OPEN Bulletin highlights recent initiatives and achievements of IEA Bioenergy, an international programme for collaborative energy technology RD&D and information dissemination. Its activities bring together nineteen participating countries and the European Commission. IEA Bioenergy is one of some forty Implementing Agreements within the IEA’s Framework for International Energy Technology Co-operation.


1. Cost-effective and sustainable - Bioenergy is part of the family of renewable energies for which the technology is proving commercially viable. As a feedstock for producing fuels and substitutes for petrochemical or other energy-intensive products, these resources stem directly or indirectly from nature’s process of photosynthesis. Organic waste from forestry or agriculture is also a bioenergy resource, as is municipal solid waste. Bioenergy solutions are well placed globally to help improve energy security and mitigate impacts of greenhouse gas emissions. They consolidate the three pillars of sustainable development: the economy, the environment and social well-being.

A programme with a track record - IEA Bioenergy has 25 years of solid experience and accomplishments behind it. The programme’s work covers a range of technical areas, structured into 11 programmes known as “Tasks”. The following items outline individual Task activities and provide access to websites and plentiful further documentation. These Tasks have broad-ranging mandates, notably addressing cross-cutting issues like techno-economic factors, environmental and economic sustainability, system studies, fuel standards, greenhouse gas balances, barriers to deployment, and management decision support systems. An IEA Bioenergy brochure describes the programme’s general aims, methods and activities.

2. Socio-economic and environmental drivers. The development of bioenergy projects yields not only environmental advantages like reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, but also socio-economic benefits. Bioenergy projects can increase employment locally, improve agricultural production and heighten local awareness of sustainable development. A special IEA Bioenergy Task identifies and quantifies the socio-economic and environmental impacts of bioenergy production systems. In particular, it investigates the effects of bioenergy generation – both feedstock production and energy conversion – on the surrounding economic, social, and environmental climate. Such identified and substantiated net regional gains and benefits can be powerful arguments when bioenergy use is being recommended to policy makers and decision takers. For more about this work, contact the Task Leader, Julije Domac , or visit the Website.

3. A resourceful public education tool. People are generally in favour of greater use of biomass, but many remain confused as to what the technology is all about and what benefits it offers local communities. Such are the findings of surveys on perceptions and attitudes regarding bioenergy and other renewables, conducted among householders in the United Kingdom (UK) and Croatia. This urgent call for an all-out effort on education was taken up at a recent international forum of IEA Bioenergy Task 29 collaborators in Streatley, UK.

Centre stage at this forum was a new educational website. It offers the user a simple-level view of the complexities of bioenergy, but also a guided tour delving deeply into the intricacies of the topic in an interactive and enjoyable way. The website also contains sections showing ‘How to learn more’ from a selection of scientific papers and useful links, then a ‘Test’ of users’ knowledge, a ‘Did you know?’ database and a ‘Search Engine’. Questions about biomass and bioenergy can be put to the Webmaster, and more complex queries to a panel of experts. This educational tool is suitable for secondary school children upwards. To learn more, visit the Website (still partially under construction).

4. Custom-grown biomass crops. Biomass can be cultivated in the form of special agricultural crops. As new agricultural land becomes available and demand for biomass production expands around the world, such energy crops assume increasing importance. The goal of IEA Bioenergy’s Task 30 is to acquire, synthesise and transfer knowledge on sustainable short-rotation biomass production systems. In collaboration with the various sectors involved, it works in this way to enhance market development and large-scale implementation. A major focus is the integration of the production and environmental functions of short-rotation biomass. The Task’s work programme features multiple high-priority topics, ranging from economic viability to system sustainability. For more about this Task, contact the Task Leader, Theo Verwijst, or visit the Task Website.

5. Sustainable production of biomass from forests. Forests can produce biomass, but the process must be undertaken without damage to the eco-system. Sustainable Bioenergy Production Systems: Environmental, Operational and Social Implications was the theme of a workshop organised jointly by IEA Bioenergy’s Tasks 31 and Task 30 in October 2002 in Brazil. Bringing together 110 participants from 15 different countries, this event established a platform for discussions on sustainability criteria. A total of 37 invited and volunteered papers and posters were presented. The program included pre- and post-workshop study tours of sugar cane and ethanol production facilities and eucalyptus plantations, as well as a mid-workshop field study tour to visit eucalyptus biomass, charcoal and tar production facilities. Six Brazilian companies mounted bioenergy-related exhibit booths. An important outcome of this very successful workshop was improved international understanding of the bioenergy sector in Brazil. The workshop proceedings are scheduled to be published in a special issue of the journal Biomass and Bioenergy. For further information on this publication and the work of IEA Bioenergy Task 31, contact Jim Richardson.

6. Sharing experience in biomass combustion and co-firing. What are the current methods for turning biomass into bioenergy? Combustion already provides over 90% of the energy generated from biomass around the globe. Compared with other thermo-chemical conversion technologies like gasification, pyrolysis or liquefaction, combustion technologies are advantageous because they are commercially available and can be integrated into existing infrastructure. As other technologies develop, however, biomass combustion will need to be optimised to remain competitive.
IEA Bioenergy’s Task 32 works on biomass combustion and co-firing with coal, which combines renewable and fossil energy in a way that derives the greatest benefit from both fuel types. Activities focus especially on expanding use of small- and medium-scale combined heat and power (CHP) plants and on co-firing biomass with coal in traditional coal-fired boilers. Co-firing technical issues addressed include ash deposition, ash utilisation, NOx, corrosion, char combustion, pre-processing of biomass and resource assessment. Combustion issues include ash utilisation, aerosol formation, and NOx. The accent is on market introduction and expanding the use of biomass combustion in the short term, as well as ensuring that biomass combustion technology remains competitive in the longer term. For more about this Task contact the Task Leader: Sjaak van Loo: or visit the Task Website

7. From biomass to biogas via thermal conversion. There are many uses for gas produced through the biomass gasification process. The focus of IEA Bioenergy’s Task 33 is on promoting commercialisation of efficient, economical and environmentally preferable biomass gasification processes. The gas produced is destined for generating electricity, heat, and steam, also for producing synthesis gas for subsequent conversion to chemicals, fertilisers, hydrogen and transportation fuels, and for co-production of these products. Operating experiences from selected biomass gasification demonstration projects were presented at a Task meeting in August 2003. Of interest to practitioners involved in the development, scale-up and operation of gasification processes, a summary of these findings can be viewed and downloaded at IEA Bioenergy’s Website. For more about this Task contact the Task Leader, Suresh P. Babu, or visit

8. Energy from biogas and landfill gas. The biological process used here is anaerobic degradation of organic wastes and waste waters. This is a controlled treatment in fully engineered vessels (digesters) providing an airless environment. The organic compounds are reduced and two products are formed: a stabilised solid product (digestate), which is an excellent fertiliser comparable to compost; and biogas, an excellent source of renewable energy comparable to natural gas.
IEA Bioenergy’s Task 37 and other networks have helped to make anaerobic digestion one of the standard technologies in the treatment of organic waste in Europe. A total of 115 plants have been identified with a treatment capacity of 1.5 million tonnes per year of organic solid waste. They are detailed at the Task 37 Website.
Anaerobic digestion is nevertheless still a relatively new process, not very well known to government agencies, potential operators and consultants. The work of IEA Bioenergy’s Task 37 helps to initiate and stimulate communication between RD&D programmes, industry and governmental bodies. For example, joining forces with the City of Vienna (Austria), Task 37 recently organised a seminar, attended by 160 participants, to convince the city to build a plant within their new waste collection concept.
For more about this seminar and about the Task, contact the Task Leader,, or visit

9. Biofuels as a commodity in international trade. Two IEA Bioenergy groups – Tasks 38 and 35 – are collaborating on the use of internationally traded biofuels for reducing CO2 emissions. A joint workshop, Biomass Trade: Economic and Greenhouse Gas Considerations (Biotrade), took place on 19 June 2002, in Amsterdam (the Netherlands), as part of the 12th European Conference and Technology Exhibition on Biomass for Energy, Industry and Climate Protection. Further information about the workshop can be found at the Task 38 Website. More recently, a Task 38 conference in Östersund (Sweden) in September 2003 focused on the theme Efficient Use of Biomass for Greenhouse Gas Mitigation. See Website.

It has been proposed by the Netherlands that a new IEA Bioenergy Task be created, dealing specifically with international trade. This could incorporate trade in raw biomass as well as trade in biofuels. A workshop with industry in July 2003 revealed interest in these issues. Further development of the proposal is being undertaken with industry and other national stakeholders and should result in a new task in the next triennium (2004-2006). For further information contact:

About IEA Bioenergy. IEA Bioenergy was set up in 1978 by the International Energy Agency (IEA) with the aim of improving co-operation and information exchange between countries having national programmes for bioenergy research, development and deployment. The programme is an IEA Implementing Agreement and operates within the IEA’s International Energy Technology Co-operation Programme. This facilitates co-operation among IEA member and non-member countries on developing new and improved energy technologies and introducing them into the market. For general information about IEA Bioenergy please visit its Website. See also the programme’s Media Centre for the new IEA Bioenergy Strategic Plan and other media items, including a descriptive brochure.

FAQs - Answers to Questions about Bioenergy, Carbon Sinks and Global Climate Change. What is the difference between CO2 emissions from bioenergy and those from fossil fuels? How can trees and forests act as a carbon sink? What area of land is required to supply bioenergy to a power station? What about land management for carbon sinks, bioenergy and fibre production? What is the potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through use of bioenergy and through terrestrial carbon sequestration? The answers can be found in this FAQ publication, which aims to inform industry, researchers, policy makers and the interested public about the key issues. Copies are available from the Task management or can be downloaded from the Task 38 Website.

Major Publications from IEA Bioenergy. Large-scale deployment of bioenergy technologies depends on effective knowledge dissemination and technology transfer. To this end, a number of books were produced by IEA Bioenergy in 2002. These capture the significant progress achieved in the technical areas of: fast pyrolysis of biomass; biomass combustion and co-firing; and bioenergy from sustainable forestry. The programme’s Executive Committee also produced a policy-orientated publication on sustainable production of woody biomass. A list of these publications is given below.

In addition, a wide range of reports, brochures newsletters and other items of briefing material can be downloaded free of charge from the programme’s Website and those of the individual programme Tasks. For more information about IEA Bioenergy publications, visit the IEA Bioenergy Library; the IEA Bioenergy Media Centre; and links to the Task websites.

Bridgwater, A.V (Ed.). Fast Pyrolysis of Biomass: A Handbook - Volume 2. CPL Press, Newbury, United Kingdom. 2002: 424pp. This handbook provides a companion volume to the first handbook published in 1999 and is a useful guide to both newcomers to the subject area and those already involved in research, development and implementation. A significant feature of this volume is the attention paid to commercial issues such as marketability, transportation and safety. For more information contact Tony Bridgwater.

Van Loo, S. and Koppejan, J. (Eds.). Handbook of Biomass Combustion and Co-firing. Twente University Press, Enschede, the Netherlands. 2002: 348pp. This handbook is the first publication to cover both the theory and the application of biomass combustion and co-firing. Combustion technologies already play a major role in energy production from biomass. To ensure further implementation of biomass combustion, however, the technology needs to be optimised to meet demands for lower costs, greater fuel flexibility, lower emissions and increased efficiency. The contributors include international academics and industrial experts from around the world. In a clear and comprehensive manner, they cover the entire field, from basic principles and fuel supply to industrial combustion and environmental aspects. The handbook is suitable for a wide audience and should help accelerate the market introduction of improved combustion systems. For more information please visit

Richardson, J., Björheden, R., Hakkila, P., Lowe, A.T. and Smith, C.T. (eds.). 2002. Bioenergy from Sustainable Forestry: Guiding Principles and Practice. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, the Netherlands. 344 pp. This volume is organised around the criteria for sustainable forest management: productivity, environment, social issues, economics, and legal and institutional frameworks. More than 25 international experts from 10 countries have brought together available ecological, physical, operational, social and economic information and identified gaps in knowledge relating to biomass production and harvesting systems. This is the first time that such comprehensive information has been presented within one cover. The book will enable forest resource managers and planners to evaluate the ability of specific forest regions to meet bioenergy production demands in a sustainable way. For more information contact Jim Richardson.

Anon. Sustainable Production of Woody Biomass for Energy - A Position Paper prepared by IEA Bioenergy. 2002: 12pp. This paper concludes that, given a supportive policy environment, bioenergy can provide a sustainable solution to future energy demands. It provides an overview of biomass production systems and a discussion of sustainability issues, with particular reference to economic, environmental and social sustainability. This is one of a series of position papers initiated by IEA Bioenergy’s Executive Committee and based on the work of the programme’s Tasks. These papers are policy-orientated statements focusing on key issues that may arise in the near future. Their purpose is to inform policy makers and influence policy development. Hard copies of Sustainable Production of Woody Biomass for Energy can be obtained from the Executive Committee Secretary, John Tustin.