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Bioenergy is energy extracted from biomass, which means any plant derived organic matter available on a renewable basis, including dedicated energy crops and trees, agricultural food and feed crops, agricultural crop wastes and residues, wood wastes and residues, aquatic plants, animal wastes, municipal wastes, and other waste materials. Biomass can make a substantial contribution to supplying future energy demand in a sustainable way. It is presently the largest global contributor of renewable energy, and has significant potential to expand in the production of heat, electricity, and fuels for transport. Further deployment of bioenergy, if carefully managed, could provide:

  • an even larger contribution to global primary energy supply;
  • significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and potentially other environmental benefits;
  • improvements in energy security and trade balances, by substituting imported fossil fuels with domestic biomass;
  • >opportunities for economic and social development in rural communities;
  • scope for using wastes and residues, reducing waste disposal problems and making better use of resources.


Biomass suppplies over 13% of the world's energy demand. Traditionally of course, wood has been used to provide heat for thousands of years, and is derived both from direct use of harvested wood as a fuel and from wood waste streams. The Chart to the left illustrates that wood is still by far the major biofuel and it is primarily used to produce heat for space heating and cooking in the developing world. This traditional use of biomass is expected to grow with increasing world population. However, there is significant scope to improve its efficiency and environmental performance and thereby help reduce biomass consumption and related impacts.




The chart of Bioenergy Production Routes above shows that there are multiple routes for the production of:


  • Heat
  • Elecric power
  • Liquid Fuels
  • Gaseous Fuels


The worldwide biomass heating capacity of about 500 GWth. Commercial biomass used in boilers and stoves to provide space and process heat in the building and industry sectors amounted to 293 Mtoe in 2006 across all regions. This includes the heat from CHP installations that is consumed on site (mainly in industry). In WEO 2008 biomass consumption rises to 453 Mtoe in 2030. Most of the increase occurs in OECD countries, through growth in the number of CHP installations in industrial facilities and increased demand for the heating of buildings. In non-OECD countries, the use of modern biomass increases from 164 Mtoe in 2006 to 241 Mtoe in 2030, leading to the more efficient and sustainable use of the local resource of basic forms of biomass.

Power Generation

Biomass power plants exist in over 50 countries around the world and supply a growing share of electricity. Several European countries are expanding their total share of power from biomass, including Austria (7%), Finland (20%), and Germany (5%). Globally, an estimated 66 GW of biomass power capacity was in place by the end of 2009.

As of 2007, the United States accounted for more than 34 percent of electricity from solid biomass generated in OECD countries, with a total of 42 TWh. Japan (16 TWh) was the OECD’s second largest producer and Germany (10 TWh) ranked third. Although the U.S. market is less developed than Europe’s, by late 2009 some 80 operating biomass projects in 20 states provided approximately 8.5 GW of power capacity, making the United States the leading country for total capacity. Many U.S. coal- and gas-fired power plants are undergoing partial or even full conversion to biomass by “co-firing” fuels in conventional power plants. Germany and the United Kingdom also generate increasing amounts of electricity with solid biomass through co-firing, and the capacity of biomass-only plants is rising rapidly across Europe. The region’s gross electricity production from solid biomass has tripled since 2001. By early 2010, some 800 solid biomass power plants were operating in Europe—burning wood, black liquor, or other biomass to generate electricity—representing an estimated 7 GW of capacity. The largest scale and number of such plants are in the heavily wooded countries of Scandinavia, but Germany and Austria have also experienced significant growth in recent years. Most of this increase in biomass capacity has resulted from the development of combined heat-and-power (CHP) plants. Just over half of the electricity produced in the European Union from solid biomass in 2008 was generated in Germany, Finland, and Sweden. Biomass accounts for about 20 percent of Finland’s electricity consumption, and Germany is Europe’s top producer. Germany increased its generation of electricity with solid biomass 20-fold between 2002 and 2008, to 10 TWh, and had about 1,200 MW installed by the end of 2008. By early 2010, bioenergy accounted for 5.3 percent of Germany’s electricity consumption, making it the country’s second largest renewable generating source after wind power.

Biomass power has also grown significantly in several developing countries, including Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Mexico, Tanzania, Thailand, and Uruguay. China’s capacity rose 14 percent in 2009 to 3.2 GW, and the country plans to install up to 30 GW by 2020. India generated 1.9 TWh of electricity with solid biomass in 2008. By the end of 2009, it had installed 835 MW of solid biomass capacity fueled by agricultural residues (up about 130 MW in 2009) and more
than 1.5 GW of bagasse cogeneration plants (up nearly 300 MW in 2009, including off-grid and distributed systems); it aimed for 1.7 GW of capacity by 2012. Brazil has over 4.8 GW of biomass cogeneration plants at sugar mills, which generated more than 14 TWh of electricity in 2009; nearly 6 TWh of this total was excess that was fed into the grid. The use of biogas to generate electricity is on the rise as well, with production increasing an estimated 7 percent during 2008. Biogas is used for electricity generation mainly in OECD countries, with some 30 TWh produced in the OECD in 2008. But a number of developing countries also produce electricity with biogas, including Thailand, which nearly doubled its capacity in 2009 to 51 MW, and Malaysia, which is also seeing significant biogas power expansion.


The 2008 World Energy Outlook by IEA forecast biomass use in power generation and heat plants to increase by over 5% each year to reach close to 290 Mtoe of primary energy in 2030. Allowing for a projected increase in fuel-to-electricity conversion efficiency over time (typically 18% to 22% for woody biomass electricity-only plants in 2006, rising to 25% by 2030), this will require approximately 1,200 Mt of biomass (approximately 40 million truck loads) to be delivered annually to the generating plants. Over 860 TWh of electricity is projected to be generated by 2030, 60% of it in OECD countries. The share of biomass in global power generation doubles to 2.6%. The biggest increases in generation occur in the United States, Europe and China.




Corn ethanol, sugar ethanol, and biodiesel are the primary biofuels markets, although others like biogas for transport and other forms of ethanol are also significant. Corn accounts for more than half of global ethanol production, and sugar cane for more than one-third. The United States and Brazil accounted for almost 90 percent of global ethanol production. The second-generation biofuels industry has seen many research and pilot-production plants commissioned, most with some form of partial public funding.

In 2009 global annual production of ethanol and biodiesel increased 10 percent and 9 percent, respectively, despite layoffs and ethanol plant closures in the United States and Brazil.

Biofuels production contributed the energy equivalent of 5 percent of world gasoline output. Biofuels also grew rapidly, at a 20-percent annual average rate
for ethanol and a 51-percent annual average for biodiesel (reflecting its lower production levels), although growth rates began declining later in the period.

Renewable energy will play a growing role in the world ’s primary energy mix. Non-hydro renewables, will grow faster than any other primary energy source, at an average rate of 3.3% per year over the period to 2030. Wind power and biomass will grow most rapidly, especially in OECD countries.


However non-hydro renewables will still make only a small dent in global energy demand in 2030,because they start from a very low base. . Poor people indeveloping countries rely heavily on traditional biomass – wood, agricultural residues and dung – for their basic energy needs. According to information specifically collected for this WEC study (World Energy Outlook 2002), 2.4 billion people in developing countries use only such fuels for cooking and heating. Many of them suffer from ill-health effects associated with the inefficient use of traditional biomass fuels. Over half of all people relying heavily on biomass live in India and China, but the proportion of the population depending on biomass is heaviest in sub-Saharan Africa. The share of the world ’s population relying on biomass for cooking and heating is projected to decline in most developing regions, but the total number of people will rise. Most of the increase will occur in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Over 2.6 billion people in developing countries will continue to rely on biomass for cooking and heating in 2030. That is an increase of more than 240 million, or 9%. In developing countries, biomass use will still represent over half of residential energy consumption in 2030.


Bioenergy Jobs

There are important job creation benefits to be gained from increased use of renewable energy technologies. Employment is created at different levels, from research and manufacturing to services, such as installers and distributors. There are many jobs available in the service industries, from sales to consulting, research, engineering, and installation through to maintenance.

One study funded by the European Union indicates 515,000 new European jobs from biomass fuel production by 2020. The study found that renewable energy technologies are more labor intensive than conventional technologies for the same energy output. In Brazil, over 700,000 rural jobs have been created in the sugar-alcohol industry.

Biomass technologies can have a major impact on creating new jobs and improving local economies in rural America. The National Energy Policy supports an increased role for biomass technologies, citing its benefits including new sources of income for farmers, land-owners, and others who harness biomass resources. To date, over 66,000 rural jobs have been created in the production of 75GW of biopower and over 40,000 jobs in biofuels. Overall, rural economies benefit through,

  • Increased demand for crops and biomass waste,
  • New jobs,
  • New investments in rural economies, and
  • Improved energy security and environment.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory reports that for every megawatt of biomass power produced, 4.9 jobs are created while the Department of Agriculture predicts that 17,000 jobs will be created per every million gallons of ethanol produced. Given the rapid growth demonstrated in biofuels this can only be good news for the employment prospects.

The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that advanced technologies currently under development will help the biomass power industry install over 13,000 megawatts of biomass power by the year 2010, with over 40% of the fuel supplied from four million acres of energy crops and the remainder from biomass residues, and create an additional 100,000 jobs. This would significantly help rural economies.

In Europe, predictions estimate that the increase in energy provided from biomass fuel production could result in the creation of over 515,000 new jobs by 2020. This prediction took account of the direct, indirect and subsidy effects on employment, and jobs displaced in conventional energy technologies.

References and Useful Links