Bioenergy  is the single largest renewable energy source today, providing 10% of world primary energy supply. It plays a crucial role in many developing countries, where it provides basic energy for cooking and space heating, but often at the price of severe health and environmental impacts. The deployment of advanced biomass cook stoves, clean fuels and additional off-grid biomass electricity supply in developing countries are key measures to improve the current situation and achieve universal access to clean energy facilities by 2030.

Biofuels can provide up to 27% of world transportation fuel by 2050

The 2011 IEA Roadmap Biofuels for Transport shows how widespread, sustainable deployment of biofuels can play an important role in enhancing energy security and reducing CO2 emissions in the transport sector, and projects growth as a transportation fuel from 2% today to 27% in 2050. Biofuels can provide up to 27% of world transportation fuel by 2050

IEA says push for renewables and nuclear fits Finnish decarbonisation strategy

The 2013 IEA in-depth review of Finland's energy policy notes that Finland, Europe's most forested country, would need to rely heavily on biofuels to meet its ambitious renewable energy target of 38%, but warns that EU legislation regarding sustainability could cause administrative burden. IEA says push for renewables and nuclear fits Finnish decarbonisation strategy

About bioenergy

Definitions

Biomass  is any organic, i.e. decomposable, matter derived from plants or animals available on a renewable basis. 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.

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.

 

Bioenergy accounts for roughly 10% (50 EJ) of world total primary energy supply today. Most 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). Modern bioenergy supply on the other hand is comparably small, but has been growing steadily in the last decade. In the buildings sector, modern bioenergy use for heat reached around 5 EJ in 2012. In addition, 8 EJ were use in industry, mainly in the pulp and paper as well as the food processing sector, to provide low- and medium-temperature process heat (see Heating Without Global Warming for more details).

Furthermore, a total of 370 TWh of bioenergy electricity was produced in 2012. This corresponds to 1.5% of world electricity generation.

Numerous technologies for generating bioenergy heat and power already exist, ranging from solid wood heating installations for buildings to biogas digesters for power generation, to large-scale biomass gasification plants for heat and power. Co-firing biomass with coal in existing coal-fired power plants can be an important option to achieve short-term emission reductions and make more sustainable use of existing assets. In addition, new dedicated bioenergy plants are becoming increasingly important to meet growing demand for bioenergy electricity and heat.

In favourable circumstances, producing energy from biomass can be cost competitive today, in particular heat. However, in many cases, economic incentives are currently needed to off-set cost differences between bioenergy and fossil fuel-generated electricity and heat. Such support is justified by the environmental, energy security and socio-economic advantages associated with sustainable bioenergy, but should be introduced as transitional measure leading to cost competitiveness in the medium term. Support measures should be backed by a strong policy framework which balances the need for energy with other important objectives such greenhouse-gas reduction, food security, biodiversity, and socio-economic development.

 

Bioenergy generation and projection by region

IEA, (2013), Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2013, OECD/IEA, Paris

 

Over the medium term, bioenergy generation and capacity are expected to scale up significantly. Global bioenergy production is expected to reach 560 TWh in 2018, up from 370 TWh in 2012 (+7% annually on average), driven by renewable energy targets in both OECD and non-OECD countries, as well as rapidly growing energy demand in a number of emerging economies with good biomass and renewable waste availability.

Final bioenergy use for heat could grow by 3% per year on average, and reach 16 EJ in 2018, as bioenergy use for heat increases in OECD Europe (driven by the European union 2020 targets) and to a smaller extent in other markets.

Bioenergy will also play an important role in contributing to heat and electricity demand in the longer term. Analysis in the IEA Technology Roadmap: Bioenergy for Heat and Power suggests, that in order to achieve significant emission reductions in the energy sector, sustainably produced bioenergy will play an increasing role in the future with primary biomass demand increasing three-fold to 2050. By 2050, the roadmap sees world biomass power production increase almost 10-fold, to 3 000 TWh in 2050. In addition, bioenergy use for heat in industry increases rapidly in the roadmap, to 24 EJ in 2050, as biomass replaces carbon-intensive coal in high-temperature applications. Only in the buildings sector in non-OECD countries, the role of bioenergy should decline as traditional biomass use is replace by more efficient, cleaner fuels.

About biofuels

 

Definitions

Biofuels are liquid and gaseous fuels produced from biomass – organic matter derived from plants or animals. 

 

Conventional biofuel technologies include well-established processes that are already producing biofuels on a commercial scale. These biofuels, commonly referred to as first-generation, include sugar- and starch-based ethanol, oil-crop based biodiesel and straight vegetable oil, as well as biogas derived through anaerobic digestion. Typical feedstocks used in these processes include sugarcane and sugar beet, starch-bearing grains like corn and wheat, oil crops like rape (canola), soybean and oil palm, and in some cases animal fats and used cooking oils.

Advanced biofuel technologies are conversion technologies which are still in the research and development (R&D), pilot or demonstration phase, commonly referred to as second- or third- generation. This category includes biofuels based on lignocellulosic biomass, such as cellulosic-ethanol, biomass-to-liquids (BtL)-diesel and bio-synthetic gas (bio-SG). The category also includes novel technologies that are mainly in the R&D and pilot stage, such as algae-based biofuels and the conversion of sugar into diesel-type biofuels using biological or chemical catalysts.

Global production of biofuels has been growing steadily over the last decade from 16 billion litres in 2000 to around 110 billion litres in 2013. Today, biofuels provide roughly 3.5% of total road transport fuel globally (on an energy basis) and considerably higher shares are achieved in certain countries. In Brazil, for instance, biofuels provide around 25% of road transport fuel demand today.

 

Global biofuels supply 2012-2018 

IEA, (2013), Medium-Term Renewable Energy Market Report 2013, OECD/IEA, Paris

 

Over the medium-term, world biofuel production is projected to reach almost 140 billion liters in 2018. On an energy-adjusted basis, biofuels would supply 1.6 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (mboe/d), slightly less than the crude oil production of the European Union in 2011. Biofuels could thus provide 4% of global road transport fuel demand in 2018, but uncertainty on support policies in the European Union and the United States provides a possible downside risk, and might undermine the sector’s growth potential, despite an increasing number of emerging and developing countries establishing biofuel support policies to reduce oil import bills.

IEA analyses show that biofuels may have to play an important role in the long-term, if the world is to make meaningful reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. In the Technology Roadmap – Biofuels for Transport, biofuel production is increasing ten-fold to 2050, with biofuels providing 25% of world transport fuel demand by that time. In the roadmap vision, biofuels will increasingly replace petroleum-based transport fuels in heavy, long-distance transport modes such as aviation and marine shipping, where few suitable low-carbon fuel alternatives are available. Advanced biofuels play a particularly important role in the roadmap, as they can provide infrastructure compatible, low-carbon fuels. In addition, these fuels hold the promise to have a higher land-use efficiency, and better greenhouse-gas balance than some of the biofuels used today.

Some of the conventional biofuels used today do not always meet expected net life-cycle greenhouse gas emission and cost performance targets, and certain conventional biofuels have been criticised for causing deforestation and adding to pressure on agricultural land needed for food and fodder production. The IEA considers it important to distinguish between different types of feedstocks and conversion routes, and ensure deployment of land-use efficient, low-carbon biofuels to meet growing demand.

The IEA calls on governments to ensure that their biofuel support policies foster the transition towards fully sustainable biofuels, including advanced biofuel technologies. Internationally aligned sustainability certification schemes for biofuels will be vital to ensure a positive environmental and social impact, and create an international market for sustainable biofuels. The IEA emphasises the importance of continuing to support advanced biofuels research, development and demonstration, and provide sound support mechanisms to ensure that the new technologies reach full market deployment. Any economic incentive should however be transitional, decrease over time and be aimed at encouraging the full competitiveness of alternative fuels.

Homepage photo: © Shutterstock.com

Fast facts

  • 10%Percentage of global energy supply provided by bioenergy
  • 3.5% Of road transport fuel provided today by biofuels

Energy technology initiatives

All related initiatives