Bioenergy and biofuels

Bioenergy accounts for roughly 9% of world total primary energy supply today. Over half of this relates to the traditional use of biomass in developing countries for cooking and heating, using inefficient open fires or simple cookstoves with impacts on health (e.g. due to indoor smoke pollution) and the environment.

End use
Other	0.83
Commercial heat	0.62
Transport	6.26
Electricity and co-generation	12.37
Modern building - heat	8.61
Industry - heat	15.88
Traditional use	55.43
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		"text": "Consumption of biomass and waste resources by end use in 2015"
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		"text": "Total: 51 EJ"
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Source: IEA (2017) Technology Roadmap: Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy

Modern bioenergy on the other hand is an important source of renewable energy, its contribution to final energy demand across all sectors is five times higher than wind and solar PV combined, even when the traditional use of biomass is excluded. Around 13 EJ of bioenergy was consumed in 2015 to provide heat, representing around 6% of global heat consumption. In recent years, bioenergy for electricity and transport biofuels has been growing fastest, mainly due to higher levels of policy support.

	Biofuels for transport	Bioenergy for heat	Bioenergy for electricity
2008	100	100	100
2009	112	99	109
2010	129	104	132
2011	135	103	139
2012	140	105	151
2013	152	109	165
2014	165	108	183
2015	165	108	198
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		"text": "Modern bioenergy growth by sector, 2008-15"
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Source: IEA (2017) Technology Roadmap: Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy

Within the industry sector, bioenergy use is common in industries which produce biomass residues on site, such as the pulp and paper industry, as well as the food processing sector, where it provides 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, around 500 TWh of electricity was generated from biomass in 2016, accounting for 2% of world electricity generation. 

Liquid biofuels can be used to decarbonise the transport sector, which is still more than 90% dependent on oil. In 2016, transport biofuels provided 4% of world road transport fuel demand, with the United States and Brazil the largest producers. Biofuel production is expected to rise to 159 billion litres in five years’ time.

In the long-term bioenergy has an essential role to play in a low-carbon energy system. For instance, modern bioenergy in final global energy consumption increases four-fold by 2060 in the IEA's 2°C scenario (2DS), which seeks to limit global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C by 2100 to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change. Within this scenario it plays a particularly important role in the transport sector, where it helps to decarbonise long-haul transport (aviation, marine and long-haul road freight). 

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. As such there is growing recognition that only bioenergy supplied and used in a sustainable manner can play a role in a low carbon energy future. 

Definitions:

  • Biomass: any organic matter, i.e. biological material, available on a renewable basis. Includes feedstock derived from animals or plants, such as wood and agricultural crops, and organic waste from municipal and industrial sources.
  • Bioenergy: energy generated from the conversion of solid, liquid and gaseous products derived from biomass.
  • Traditional use of solid biomass: The traditional use of solid biomass refers to the use of solid biomass with basic technologies, such as a three-stone fire, often with no or poorly operating chimneys.

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.

Browse all Technology Roadmaps >

Technology Roadmap: Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy

Published: 27 November 2017

Bioenergy is the main source of renewable energy today. IEA modelling also indicates that modern bioenergy is an essential component of the future low carbon global energy system if global climate change commitments are to be met, playing a particularly important role in helping to decarbonise sectors such as aviation, shipping and long haul road transport.
 
However, the current rate of bioenergy deployment is well below the levels required in low carbon scenarios. Accelerated deployment is urgently needed to ramp up the contribution of sustainable bioenergy across all sectors, notably in the transport sector where consumption is required to triple by 2030.  But bioenergy is a complex and sometimes controversial topic. There is an increasing understanding that only bioenergy that is supplied and used in a sustainable manner has a place in a low carbon energy future. 
 
This Technology Roadmap re-examines the role of bioenergy in light of changes to the energy landscape over the past five years as well as recent experience in bioenergy policy, market development and regulation. It identifies the technical, policy and financial barriers to deployment, and suggests a range of solutions to overcome them.

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 Collaboration Programmes (TCPs)

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Bioenergy TCP

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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