Bioenergy and biofuels

Bioenergy can be used to produce heat, electricity or transport fuels. It accounts for roughly 11% (44.3 EJ) of world total primary energy supply today. However, almost two-thirds of this is consumed in developing countries for cooking and heating, using very inefficient open fires or simple cookstoves with considerable impact on health (smoke pollution) and environment (deforestation).

	Electricity	Transport	Heat from modern bioenergy (buildings)	Heat from modern bioenergy (industry)	Heat from traditional biomass 
	0.7	0.6	3.3	8.0	32.8
	1.4	2.7	4.4	8.0	31.6
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Modern bioenergy supply on the other hand is an important source of renewable energy, especially in the heat sector. Around 13 EJ of bioenergy (mainly solid biomass) was consumed in 2015 to provide heat, around 6% of global heat consumption. Bioenergy use is common in the pulp and paper industry, as well as the food processing sector, to provide low- and medium-temperature process heat. Modern bioenergy is also widely used for space and water heating, either directly in buildings or in district heating schemes. Furthermore, a total of 474 TWh of bioenergy electricity was produced in 2015, 2% of world electricity generation.

In the transport sector, which is still more than 90% dependent on oil, liquid biofuels provide an important option for decarbonisation. In 2015, biofuels provided 4% of world road transport fuel demand, with the United States and Brazil as the largest biofuel producers. Biofuel production is expected to rise only slowly, reaching almost 4.5% in 2021, with growth mainly in Asia.

Sustainability of bioenergy supply chains is an important consideration and strong governance frameworks are needed to ensure that bioenergy use provides environmental and social benefits.

Definitions

  • Biomass is any organic, i.e. decomposable, matter derived from plants or animals available for energy conversion. Biomass includes wood and agricultural crops, herbaceous and woody energy crops, municipal organic wastes, as well as manure.
  • Bioenergy is energy derived from the conversion of biomass where biomass may be used directly as fuel, or processed into liquids and gases.
  • Biofuels are liquid and gaseous fuels produced biomass. 
  • Traditional biomass use refers to the use of wood, charcoal, agricultural resides and animal dung for cooking and heating in the residential sector. It tends to have very low conversion efficiency (10% to 20%) and often unsustainable supply.

Technology Roadmaps

The IEA has developed and regularly updates a series of global, low-carbon energy technology roadmaps which identify priority actions for governments, industry, financial partners and civil society that will advance technology development and uptake to achieve international climate change goals.

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Technology Roadmap: How2Guide for Bioenergy

Published: 30 January 2017

Bioenergy is the largest source of renewable energy today, providing heat and electricity, as well as transport fuels. Yet, more so than for other low‑carbon energy technologies, the complex and multi‑faceted supply chains of bioenergy projects call for careful consideration of sustainability issues and well-thought-out regulatory frameworks. These will enable continued bioenergy growth, while contributing to reduced GHG emissions and greater energy security while fostering the agricultural sector.

A concerted effort is needed to accelerate the development and deployment of bioenergy technologies globally. National and regional bioenergy roadmaps can play a key role in assisting decision makers identify pathways that are tailored to local resources and priority actions to overcome economic and non‑economic barriers. This How2Guide for Bioenergy was jointly developed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a toolbox that can be used for both planning and implementing new bioenergy strategies, or to improve existing ones.

Technology Roadmap: Bioenergy for Heat and Power

Published: 29 May 2012

Bioenergy is the largest source of renewable energy today, providing heat and electricity, as well as transport fuels. Yet, more so than for other low‑carbon energy technologies, the complex and multi‑faceted supply chains of bioenergy projects call for careful consideration of sustainability issues and well-thought-out regulatory frameworks. These will enable continued bioenergy growth, while contributing to reduced GHG emissions and greater energy security while fostering the agricultural sector.

A concerted effort is needed to accelerate the development and deployment of bioenergy technologies globally. National and regional bioenergy roadmaps can play a key role in assisting decision makers identify pathways that are tailored to local resources and priority actions to overcome economic and non‑economic barriers. This How2Guide for Bioenergy was jointly developed by the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) as a toolbox that can be used for both planning and implementing new bioenergy strategies, or to improve existing ones.

Technology Roadmap: Biofuels for Transport

Published: 20 April 2011

The production of transport fuels from biomass, in either liquid or gaseous form, holds the promise of a low net fossil-energy requirement and low life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, there are many hurdles to the expansion of biofuels production, including competition for agricultural commodities and land, and impacts on water resources and biodiversity. The successful development of advanced biofuels technologies, using non-food biomass feedstocks, could help overcome most barriers and achieve sustainable, very low CO2, cost-effective biofuels.

The IEA “Biofuels for Transport” roadmap describes the steps necessary to achieve the ambitious biofuel projections presented in the Energy Technology Perspectives 2010 Blue Map scenario. Under this scenario, biofuel demand increases rapidly, reaching approximately 760 Mtoe (32 EJ) in 2050, a share of 27% of total transport fuel. This roadmap identifies major barriers, opportunities, and policy measures for policy makers, industry and financial partners to accelerate RDD&D efforts for sustainable biofuel technologies and ensure sustainable feedstock provision on both a national and international scale.

Also available in Chinese.

Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP)

IEA Bioenergy TCP logo

The vision of the IEA TCP on 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.

Learn more about the Bioenergy TCP >

About Technology Collaboration Programmes

The breadth and coverage of analytical expertise in the IEA Technology Collaboration Programmes (TCPs) are unique assets that underpin IEA efforts to support innovation for energy security, economic growth and environmental protection. The 38 TCPs operating today involve about 6 000 experts from government, industry and research organisations in more than 50 countries.

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