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There are no quick fixes to long-term energy challenges. To find solutions, governments and industry benefit from sharing resources and accelerating results. For this reason the IEA enables independent groups of experts - the Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs1.


Costs of central heating systems including external costs based on global emissions.*

Please pass the pellets

Policy context
Bioenergies (biomass and biofuels) currently account for 10% of global primary energy supply. Bioenergies provide sustainable, socio-economic solutions to energy challenges, whether for electricity generation or transport. A variety of bio-based fuels can be used: wastes, agricultural and forestry residues, as well as crops grown specifically for energy purposes. Policies and measures to deploy bioenergy include incentives such as renewable energy certifications, supporting research and development (R&D) to ensure lower life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and aligning bioenergy policies with agriculture, forestry and rural development.

The vision of the ETI focusing on biomass and biofuels (Bioenergy) is to make a substantial contribution to future global energy demand by accelerating the production and use of environmentally sound, socially acceptable and cost-competitive bioenergy. Activities include exchanging information on recent developments through studies and workshops; working with industry to develop handbooks and models; providing information for policy-makers and decision-makers; and compiling guidelines and standards on the use of bioenergy.  There are currently 23 Contracting Parties, including Brazil, Croatia and South Africa.

Production, consumption and trade of wood pellets have grown strongly over the last decade. For these reasons one recent Bioenergy project, Biomass Combustion and Co-firing, examined the potentials and barriers of burning wood pellets, including supply chain, economic and environmental considerations.

Compared to other forms of biomass fuels, pellets are of consistent quality and burn efficiently. They are an ideal candidate for sustainable solutions as they can be made from many types of biomass such as sawdust from the milling industry or agricultural waste. 

However, storing and burning pellets contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. When stored, pellets emit some carbon, and when burned, can create carbon and particulate emissions such as ash. Cost calculation comparisons were conducted using fossil fuel and biomass fuels for central heating systems in individual homes. Each fuel was also evaluated on the external costs, i.e. costs related to impacts such as health damage, environmental degradation, building damage and climate or safety issues.

The study showed that a district‑heating network linked to a biomass-fired boiler was found to be the most economical and environmentally sustainable option.

Considering the price of oil and natural gas, the pellet central heating system was found to be the next best option. Full results of this analysis can be found in The Pellet Handbook.

* Source of the graph: Bios Bioenergiesystems GmbH, Graz, Austria.

Current projects

  • Biomass combustion and co-firing
  • Biomass feedstocks for energy markets
  • Biorefining - sustainable processing of biomass into a spectrum of marketable bio-based products and bioenergy
  • Climate change impacts of biomass and bioenergy systems
  • Commercialisation of conventional and advanced liquid biofuels from biomass
  • Energy from biogas
  • Integrating energy recovery into solid waste management
  • Pyrolysis of biomass
  • Sustainable bioenergy markets and international trade: securing supply and demand
  • Thermal gasification of biomass 

For more information:


1.Information or material of the IEA Energy Technology Initiatives, or ETIs (formally organised under the auspices of an Implementing Agreement), including information or material published on this website, does not necessarily represent the views or policies of the IEA Secretariat or of the IEA’s individual Member countries. The IEA does not make any representation or warranty (express or implied) in respect of such information (including as to its completeness, accuracy or non-infringement) and shall not be held liable for any use of, or reliance on, such information.