International Energy Agency




Biomass is any organic, i.e. decomposing, 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.

Biomass-based energy accounted for roughly 10% of world total primary energy supply in 2009. 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. A total of 280 TWh of bioenergy electricity, i.e. 1.5% of world electricity generation, was generated globally in 2010, and 8 EJ of bioenergy for heat were used in the industry sector.

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 demand increasing three-fold to 2050. While several technologies for generating bioenergy heat and power already exist, there is a need to extend the use of the most efficient technologies available today, and to complete the development and deployment of a number of new technology options. Co-firing biomass with coal will be an important option to achieve short-term emission reductions, and make use of standing assets. In addition, new dedicated bioenergy plants will become increasingly important to meet growing demand for bioenergy electricity and heat.

While in favourable circumstances producing energy from biomass can be cost competitive today.  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 frame work which balances the need for energy with other important objectives such greenhouse-gas (GHG) reduction, food security and biodiversity, and socio-economic development.

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