Biomass energy (bioenergy) can be produced from a wide range of feedstocks of biological origin using a number of different processes to produce heat, electricity and transport fuels (biofuels). Many bioenergy conversion pathways are well established and fully commercial, while others are still at the development, demonstration and commercialisation stages.1

If the traditional use of biomassi is included, bioenergy contributed an estimated 12.8% (46.4 exajoules (EJ)) to total final energy consumption in 2016.2 Modern bioenergy (excluding the traditional use of biomass) contributed 5% to final energy consumption.3 ( See Figure 16.)

Bioenergy plays an expanded role in many low-carbon scenarios and can be particularly useful in the long-haul transport sector, where other energy alternatives may not be readily available.4 An expanded role for bioenergy remains the subject of debate and sometimes controversy regarding the sustainability of production and use. ( See Box 2 in Policy Landscape chapter.) However, there is increasing consensus that when produced and used in a sustainable way, bioenergy can contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and provide a range of other environmental, social and economic benefits.5

Note: Totals may not add up due to rounding.
Source: See endnote 3 for this section.

In 2017, a number of initiatives were advanced to expand sustainable bioenergy development, including the newly established 20-country BioFuture Platform to promote the expansion of a sustainable bioeconomyii, and the Sustainable Biofuels Innovation Challenge, which is part of the global Mission Innovation programme and has 22 participating countries.6

Bioenergy Markets

Bioenergy markets are greatly influenced by the policy contexts of specific countries and regions. During 2017, several countries implemented policies to support bioenergy production and use. For example, in Brazil, the RenovaBio initiative is expected to lead to a significant increase in bioenergy production and use.7 Also in 2017, India launched a major initiative to enhance the level of domestic production and use of biofuels (including advanced biofuels produced from agricultural residues).8 In contrast, debate has continued within the European Union (EU) about the role of bioenergy in the EU Renewable Energy Directive, with constraints to be introduced on “food-based” biofuels.9 Uncertainties also remain around the future of the US Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).10 These varying policy climates greatly affect market developments.

The contribution of bioenergy to final energy consumption for heat in buildings and industry exceeds its use in electricity and transport, even when the traditional use of bioenergy is excluded; however, the electricity sector has seen the highest rate of growth in bioenergy consumption.11 ( See Figure 16.)

Bio-heat Markets

Bioenergy as solid fuels (biomass), liquids (biofuels) or gases (biogas or biomethane) can be used to produce heat for cooking and for space and water heating in the residential sector, in traditional stoves or in modern appliances such as pellet-fed central heating boilers. At a larger scale, it can provide heat for public and commercial premises as well as for industry, where it can provide either low-temperature heat for heating and drying applications or high-temperature process heat. Bioenergy also can be used to co-generate electricity and heat via combined heat and power (CHP) systems, either on-site in buildings or distributed from larger production facilities via district energy systems, to provide heating (and in some cases cooling) to residential, commercial and industrial buildings.

The traditional use of biomass to supply energy for cooking and heating in simple and usually inefficient devices is still the largest use of bioenergy. Given the serious negative health impacts of such use, and the unsustainable nature of much of the supply of such biomass, there is an emphasis on reducing traditional biomass uses as part of the efforts to improve energy access. ( See Distributed Renewables chapter.) Because the supply of biomass for traditional use is informal, obtaining accurate data on its use is difficult.12

Source: See endnote 19 for this section.

The amount of biomass used in traditional applications has grown slowly, from 27.7 EJ in 2005 to an estimated 28.4 EJ in 2016.13 However, the share of traditional biomass in total global energy consumption has been declining gradually for several years, from 9.2% of total final energy consumption (TFEC) in 2005 to an estimated 7.8% of TFEC in 2016.14 ( See Figure 2 in Global Overview chapter.)

In 2016, modern bioenergy applications provided an estimated 13.1 EJ of heat in terms of final energy consumption, of which 7.9 EJ was used in industrial applications.15 The global residential and commercial sectors consumed 5.2 EJ of bioenergy in 2016, used mainly for space heating in buildings.16 The total installed heat capacity of modern bioenergy increased to an estimated 314 gigawatts-thermal (GWth) in 2017.17

Europe is the largest consumer of modern bio-heat by region. EU member states have promoted the use of renewable heat in both buildings and industry in order to meet mandatory national targets under the Renewable Energy Directive.18 The EU used an estimated 3.6 EJ of bio-heat in 2016 (latest data available).19 ( See Figure 17.) The majority of this was supplied from solid biomass (91%), with additional approximately equal contributions (4% each) from biogas and from municipal solid wasteiii (MSW).20

Germany is the largest consumer (0.52 EJ) of bio-heat in the EU, followed by France (0.45 EJ), Sweden (0.36 EJ), Italy (0.32 EJ) and Finland (0.30 EJ).21 Since 2007, the consumption of heat from bioenergy in the EU has increased by over 30%.22 The fastest-growing market over this period is the United Kingdom, where bio-heat consumption has risen more than five-fold with support under the UK’s Renewable Heat Incentive Scheme.23

Heat supplied from bioenergy accounts for around 6.8% of all industrial heat consumption.24 Total bioheat consumption in industry has been stable in recent years, concentrated in bio-based industries such as the pulp and paper sector, timber and the food and tobacco sectors.25 More than 50% of global industrial use of bio-heat continues to occur in three countries: Brazil, India and the United States.26 Brazil is the largest user of bioenergy for industrial heat production (1.4 EJ) due to the use of bagasse in CHP applications in the sugar industry, the use of residues in the pulp and paper industry and the use of charcoal in the iron and steel industry.27

India is the second largest user of bioenergy for industrial heat production, particularly in the sugar industry.28 Bioenergy use in industry in North America has been falling, compensated by gains in Asia and South America, reflecting changes in production patterns in key industry sectors, especially pulp and paper.29

China used some 8 million tonnes of biomass (equivalent to 120 petajoules (PJ)) in the industrial sector in 2016 (latest data available), and the country’s 13th Five-Year Plan indicates that this will increase to 30 million tonnes (450 PJ) by 2020.30 The use of biomass for heating is seen as a way to reduce local pollution by replacing coal in heating applications, and to provide heat in the country’s north during periods of gas shortage.31

Modern use of bio-heat in buildings is concentrated in North America and the EU. The market for wood pellets for domestic and commercial heating was essentially unchanged in 2017 at 14.0 million tonnes.32 Most of the pellets were used in Europe (11.1 million tonnes) – with the leading markets in Italy, Germany and France – followed by North America (2.9 million tonnes, with sales in the United States down 4% to 2.6 million tonnes).33

Bioelectricity Markets

Global bioelectricity (electricity generation from bioenergy) capacity increased 7% between 2016 and 2017, to 122 gigawatts (GW).34 Total global bioelectricity generation rose 11% in 2017 to 555 terawatt-hours (TWh).35 China has now overtaken the United States as the largest producer of bioelectricity; the other major producers are Brazil, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and India.36 ( See Figure 18.)

Source: See endnote 36 for this section.

In Europe, the leading region for bioelectricity generation, generation rose 11% in 2017 compared to 2016, driven by the Renewable Energy Directive and maintaining the strong growth of the previous decade.37 Europe’s largest bioelectricity producer is Germany, where capacity increased 4% in 2017 to 8.0 GW, with significant rises in biogas, biomethane and sewage gas capacity.38 Bioelectricity generation in Germany rose 1% (51 TWh), with a 2% rise in biogas and methane generation offsetting reductions from other biomass feedstocks.39

The United Kingdom’s bioelectricity capacity increased by 241 megawatts (MW) in 2017 to 6.0 GW, due primarily to increases in wood-based generation capacity, anaerobic digestion and waste-to-energy.40 The country’s bioelectricity generation rose 6% in 2017 to 31.8 TWh, with growth in large-scale generation based on solid biomass fuels including wood pellets, anaerobic digestion and MSW, offset in part by reductions in landfill gas generation and in co-firing of biomass with coal.41 Generation also is estimated to have grown strongly in Finland, Ireland, Poland and Sweden during 2017.42

China has become the world’s largest bioelectricity producer, as generation grew 23% in 2017 to 79.4 TWh, and capacity increased from 12.1 GW to 14.9 GW.43 This growth is in response to revised objectives in the 13th Five-Year Plan, which set a capacity target for renewables of 23 GW by 2020.44 The combustion of agricultural wastes and MSW accounted for most of the total bioelectricity generation.45

The United States has the second highest level of bioelectricity generation, although generation has been relatively flat for the last decade in the absence of strong policy drivers and because of increasing competition from other sources of renewable electricity generation. Generation rose only 2% in 2017 to 69 TWh (up from 68 TWh in 2016).46 US bioelectricity capacity decreased slightly despite the commissioning of 268 MW of new capacity, as some existing capacity was retired.47

Brazil is the largest producer of bioelectricity in South America, with capacity rising 5% in 2017 to 14.6 GW and generation rising 4% to 49 TWh.48 Nearly 80% of the biomass-based electricity generation in Brazil is fuelled by bagasse, which is produced in large quantities in sugar production.49

In Asia (beyond China), bioelectricity capacity and generation continued to rise strongly in Japan, stimulated by a generous feed-in tariff.50 The country’s capacity for dedicated biomass plants increased 14% to reach 3.6 GW in 2017, and generation totalled some 37 TWh, a 16% increase from 2016.51 India’s total bioelectricity capacity increased 10% in 2017 to 9.5 GW, and generation rose 8% to 32.5 TWh.52

Transport Biofuel Markets

Biofuels production and use are very concentrated geographically, with more than 80% of production and use taking place in the United States, Brazil and the EU combined.53 In 2017, global biofuels production rose around 2.5% compared to 2016, reaching 143 billion litres (equivalent to 3.5 EJ).54 The United States and Brazil remained the largest biofuel producers by far, followed by Germany and then Argentina, China and Indonesia.55

The main biofuels produced were ethanol, biodiesel (fatty acid methyl ester or FAME fuels), and fuels produced by treating animal and vegetable oils and fats with hydrogen (hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) / hydrotreated esters and fatty acids (HEFA)), as well as a growing contribution from biomethane in some countriesiv. An estimated 65% of biofuel production (in energy terms) was ethanol, 29% was FAME biodiesel and 6% was HVO/HEFA.56 ( See Figure 19.) The use of biomethane as a transport fuel, while growing rapidly, contributed less than 1% of the biofuel total.57

Note: HVO = hydrotreated vegetable oil; HEFA = hydrotreated esters and fatty acids; FAME = fatty acid methyl esters
Source: See endnote 56 for this section.

Production, consumption and trade in biofuels are affected by several factors including growing conditions in the producing countries, the policy and market environments, as well as import tariffs and other measures affecting international trade.

Global annual production of ethanol increased 3.8% between 2016 and 2017, from 101 billion litres to 105.5 billion litres.58 The United States and Brazil maintained their leads in ethanol production, together accounting for 84% of global production in 2017.59 The next largest producers were China, Canada and Thailand.60

US ethanol production rose 2.8% to 60 billion litres during the year, following a good corn harvest.61 More than 90% of this fuel was used in the United States – with a record average blend rate of 10.08% – to meet the annual volume requirements under the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (US EPA’s) final Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2) allocations.62 The remaining fuel was exported to more than 60 countries.63

Ethanol production in Brazil was stable in 2017 at 28.5 billion litres, despite high global sugar prices favouring sugar production.64 The fuel was used mainly within Brazil but some was exported, for example to the United States.65

China continued to rank third for ethanol production globally in 2017 and produced an estimated 3.3 billion litres, a 4% increase over 2016.66 China aims to shift to an E10 ethanol/gasoline blend by 2020, which would push demand up by a factor of at least four.67 The country’s ethanol production has grown, based largely on maize (70%) but with significant contributions from cassava (25%) and molasses from sugar beet and sugar cane (5%).68

Ethanol production in Canada, which ranked fourth globally in 2017, increased 3% to 1.7 billion litres.69 In Thailand, the fifth largest producer, production increased 23% to 1.5 billion litres.70

Global trade patterns for ethanol have been changing, in part in response to rapidly rising demand in China and to the introduction of protective import tariffs in several countries. In 2015, China became a major importer of ethanol, especially from the United States; however, as domestic production in China increased, the country introduced tariff barriers in early 2017 that greatly reduced these imports.71 Brazil also introduced an import quota in 2017 aimed at US-produced ethanol; if the quota is exceeded, an import tariff is imposed.72

Biodiesel production is more geographically diverse than ethanol production and is spread among many countries. Although Europe was the highest-producing region in 2017, the leading countries for biodiesel production were the United States (16% of global production), Brazil (11%), Germany (9%), Argentina (9%) and Indonesia (7%).73 Global biodiesel production rose around 1% to 36.6 billion litres in 2017.74 The increase was due mainly to increases in the United States, where production grew 1.6% to 6 billion litres in response to improved opportunities for biodiesel in the RFS.75 Biodiesel production in Brazil increased 13% in 2017 to reach a record 4.3 billion litres, with the blending level of biodiesel in diesel rising to 9%.76 Germany was again the largest European producer at 3.5 billion litres.77 In Argentina, biodiesel production increased 8% to 3.3 billion litres, and in Indonesia production fell 10% to 2.5 billion litres in 2017.78

International trade in biodiesel was greatly affected by changing import tariffs. The United States introduced “anti-dumping” tariffs on imports from Indonesia and Argentina.79 In Europe, however, the EU ended tariffs on imports of biodiesel in 2017.80

HVO/HEFA, produced by treating vegetable oils and animal fats (including wastes and residues) with hydrogen, have fuel properties that are closer to those of fossil-based fuels and that can be tailored to particular end-uses. Production is concentrated in Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore and the United States.81 Global production of HVO grew an estimated 10% in 2017, from 5.9 billion litres to 6.5 billion litres.82

The United States is the largest market for biomethane, and production of the fuel has been stimulated in the country since 2015, when biomethane was first included in the advanced cellulosic biofuels category of the EPA’s RFS, thereby qualifying for a premium.83 US biomethane consumption grew nearly six-fold between 2014 and 2016, then increased another 15% in 2017 to some 17.4 PJ.84

In Europe, the other globally significant market for biomethane for transport, consumption increased 12% between 2015 and 2016, to 6.1 PJ (latest data available).85 Production and use were concentrated in Sweden (4.7 PJ), where methane production from food wastes is encouraged as part of a sustainable waste reduction policy, and where use of biomethane as a transport fuel is prioritised over its use for electricity production or for injection into gas grids.86 Germany (1.3 PJ) was Europe’s second largest user of biomethane for transport in 2016.87

Bioenergy Industry


of all biofuels are produced and used in the United States, Brazil and the EU

Bioenergy requires a more complex supply chain than other renewable energy technologies, including feedstock suppliers and processors as well as transport of the fuel to end-users. The required equipment includes specialised biomass harvesting, handling and storage equipment in addition to appliances and hardware components to convert biomass to useful energy carriers and energy services. Many of the necessary technologies are well developed and commercially available; however, the bioenergy industry – with support from academia, research institutions and governments – is making progress in bringing new technologies and fuels to the market.88

Solid Biomass Industry

A very diverse set of industries is involved in growing, harvesting, delivering, processing and using solid biomass to produce heat and electricity, ranging from the informal supply of traditional biomass, to the locally based supply of smaller-scale heating appliances, to regional and global players involved in large-scale district heating and power generation technology supply and operations. Using biomass to produce electricity and/or heat can involve the use of fuels close to their source, such as MSW, residues from agricultural and forestry processes, and purpose-grown energy crops.

The fuels also can be processed and transported to be used where markets are most profitable – notably, through the international trade in biomass pellets that often are used for large-scale generation, either by co-firing in coal-fired power stations or for burning in dedicated utility-scale plants. The energy can be used for heating, for electricity generation or for both, through the use of CHP systems.

Bagasse and other agricultural residues are commonly used to produce heat and power around the world, especially in Brazil. This technology is being deployed to a larger extent in more countries, and several new plants were commissioned or under development in 2017. For example, in Sierra Leone, Sunbird Bioenergy Africa successfully commissioned the country’s first bioenergy plant (32 MW), using a variety of feedstocks (bagasse, napier grass, sorghum, miscanthus and wood chips) to supply an agricultural estate, with surplus power sold to the national grid.89 In Mexico, a 50 MW bagasse plant was completed (commissioned in February 2018) to supply power and heat to the sugarcane mill; any excess energy will be exported to the grid.90 A 1.8 MW plant fuelled with rice husks is being developed in the Ayeyarwaddy region of Myanmar.91

The use of MSW as a fuel for electricity or heat production is very well established, for example in Europe and Japan.92 This practice often is driven by efforts to improve waste management and to avoid sending the MSW to landfill, as much as to provide renewable energy. Energy generation from MSW is being deployed more widely in a number of emerging and developing countries where urbanisation has led to rising waste production and thus to waste disposal problems.

In China, producing energy from waste is used widely as an alternative to landfill, and waste-to-energy plants also are starting to be developed in other parts of Asia and in Africa. For example, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, construction began in 2017 on a waste-to-energy plant that will process 1,400 tonnes of municipal waste a day and generate 185 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity annually, enough to meet the power demands of 25% of the city’s households.93 And in Chonburi, Thailand, the international waste management firm Suez (France) began work on an 8.63 MW industrial waste-to-energy power plant that will process some 100,000 tonnes of waste each year.94

Global production and trade in wood pellets for industrial use (mostly in power stations) and for heating continued to expandv, with production reaching some 30 million tonnes in 2017.95 Some 14 million tonnes was used for residential and commercial heating markets that year – notably in Italy, Germany and Sweden – but the market did not grow significantly.96 Recent developments include the commissioning of Helsinki, Finland’s largest pellet-fired boiler – which uses 21 tonnes of wood pellets per hour to generate heat for apartment blocks – by the Finnish company Helen in February 2018.97

The other 16 million tonnes of wood pellets was used in the industrial sector, mostly for power generation, a growth of more than 20% since 2016.98 Europe is the major market for this use, dominated by the United Kingdom, which used 7.5 million tonnes of wood pellets for power generation in 2017.99 UK-based Drax – the world’s largest bio-electricity generator and pellet user – has already converted three coal generation units (totalling 1.9 GW) to biomass pellets, and is converting a fourth.100 The company also has invested heavily in pellet production to secure its supplies, and in 2017 it opened a plant in the US state of Louisiana that can produce 45,000 tonnes of pellets annually.101 Denmark is the second largest European market for wood pellet use, at 2.7 million tonnes.102

Markets also have developed rapidly in the Republic of Korea and in Japan, where combined pellet production totalled some 2.6 million tonnes in 2017 and is expected to exceed 10 million tonnes by 2020 as projects under construction come online.103 In 2017, developers in Japan rushed to get bioelectricity projects approved before the expected reduction in the feed-in tariff at year’s end.104 By mid-2017, more than 800 projects with a total capacity of 12.4 GW had won government approval, nearly double Japan’s biomass target for 2030.105

In 2017, the Finnish company Valmet was contracted to install a 112 MW power plant in Kishiru, Japan, based on a circulating fluidised bed system for co-firing coal and biomass, including wood pellets and crushed palm kernel shells (PKS).106 Andritz (Austria) will supply a boiler using PKS and wood pellets to produce 50 MW of electricity for export to the grid in Ichihara, 30 kilometres east of Tokyo.107 Toshiba Corporation (Japan) started commercial operation of a 50 MW biomass power plant using PKS in Omuta, in Fukuoka prefecture, to produce electricity for the grid; the company plans to import 0.2 million tonnes of PKS per year, mainly from Indonesia.108

Japanese companies involved in bioenergy production from biomass pellets are taking steps to ensure adequate fuel supply imports.109 For example, Sumitomo, the country’s largest pellet importer, has undertaken efforts to secure supply by taking financial stakes in several pellet-producing companies worldwide.110 In 2017, Sumitomo acquired a 48% share in Canada’s second largest pellet producer, Pacific Bioenergy.111 It also has interests in Brazil, where it has taken a stake in Cosan Biomassa, a company that plans to make pellets from sugarcane residue.112

The United States is the largest producer and exporter of wood pellets.113 As of end-2017, the country had the capacity to produce 10.7 million metric tonnes (11.8 million short tons) of pellets annually in 87 plants.114 Actual production in 2017 was 5.3 million tonnes (5.8 million tons), of which 4.7 million tonnes (5.2 million tons) was exported, mainly to Europe (primarily the United Kingdom).115 Other major producers and exporters of wood pellets included Canada and Latvia.116

Liquid Biofuels Industry

The production of liquid biofuels has been growing slowly and depends heavily on the policy and regulatory climate, which varies greatly by region. In Brazil, the RenovaBio initiative has been a strong promoter of the country’s biofuels industry, while in the United States the future of the national RFS remains unclear.117 In the EU, uncertainties continue around the future of biofuels between 2020 and 2030 under the Renewable Energy Directive, with the likelihood of a cap on conventional biofuels based on feedstocks that also can be used as food, and an increasing emphasis on advanced biofuels.118 In India and China, biofuels are being given more priority, with a medium-term emphasis on advanced biofuels.119


Despite the policy uncertainty, US production of ethanol and biodiesel continued to grow to serve domestic and export markets, and ethanol exports reached a record high in 2017.120 Some investment in new capacity also occurred. For example, Poet (United States) increased the production capacity of its Ohio-based ethanol facility from 265 million litres to 568 million litres (70 million gallons to 150 million gallons) per year; Cargill (United States) was building a “state of the art” biodiesel plant in the state of Kansas; and World Energy (United States) and Biox (Canada) commissioned a new biodiesel facility in Houston, Texas.121

In Brazil, a USD 115 million corn ethanol facility opened in the Mato Grosso region in August 2017, capable of producing some 227 million litres (60 million gallons) of ethanol per year.122

By contrast, Europe’s second largest ethanol plant (and the United Kingdom’s largest), operated by Vivergo in East Yorkshire, was taken offline in December 2017 for the foreseeable future because of market uncertainties including a lack of progress in the United Kingdom in developing concrete proposals for a 10% ethanol blend (E10) in petrol, and because of EU plans to constrain the use of “food-based” biofuels.123 Archer Daniels Midland (United States) mothballed its biodiesel facility in Mainz, Germany in early 2018 after the removal of EU import tariffs on Indonesian biofuels.124

While most efforts to promote biofuels in transport are led by policy and regulation, the Below 50 initiative, launched in Europe in 2016 under the auspices of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, aims to promote demand for biofuels that offer a carbon reduction of more than 50% compared to fossil fuels.125 The initiative brings together the entire supply chain from feedstock producers to users such as transport fleet operators. By the end of 2017, more than 20 international companies had subscribed to the initiative, and it had expanded to hubs on four continents.126

In regions outside of the main markets (North and South America, Europe, China and India), development of biofuels production is held back by the lack of effective supporting policies and technical capacity; however, some promising signs of industry activity were apparent in 2017. In Nigeria, the state oil corporation signed a memorandum of understanding with the Kebbi State Government to build an ethanol plant based on cassava and sugarcane feedstocks, and to produce 84 million litres of ethanol per year.127 In Zambia, Sunbird Bioenergy Africa launched a programme to encourage growers to plant cassava to supply feedstock for an ethanol project that will provide 120 million litres of ethanol per year (equivalent to 15% of Zambia’s petroleum requirements), highlighting the long lead-time associated with the need to establish a supply chain for biofuels projects.128 In Indonesia, a waste-to-ethanol project is under way that will process food waste into bio-products such as ethanol (2.3 million litres), animal feed and fertiliser.129 And in Thailand, St1 (Finland) announced its cooperation with Ubon Bio Ethanol (Thailand) to launch a pilot project to produce ethanol from cassava waste.130

Worldwide efforts to demonstrate the production and use of advanced biofuels continued in 2017. These aim to respond to the policy requirement to produce fuels that demonstrate improved sustainability performance – including better life-cycle carbon savings than some biofuels produced from sugar, starch and oils, as well as fuels with less impact on land use (for example, from wastes and residues).131 Advanced biofuels also can have properties enabling them to replace fossil fuels directly in transport systems (“drop-in biofuels”), including in applications such as aviation, or for blending in high proportions with conventional fuels. A number of different pathways to produce advanced biofuels are under development and include bio-based fuels in the form of ethanol, butanol, diesel jet fuel, gasoline, methanol and mixed higher alcohols from an array of feedstocks.132

The market for new biofuels in 2017 was led by HVO/HEFA, followed by ethanol from cellulosic materials such as crop residues, and by fuels from thermochemical processes including gasification and pyrolysis.133

Production of HVO/HEFA fuels (based on feedstocks including used cooking oil, tall oilvi and others) continued to increase in 2017, mainly through increases in production ramped from existing production capacity, and with growing emphasis on using non-food feedstocks.134 For example, Neste (Finland), which owns three large-scale renewable HVO diesel production facilities in Singapore, the Netherlands and Finland, announced plans to both increase the capacity of its existing facilities to 3 million tonnes (3.7 billion litres) by 2020 by improving productivity at these sites, as well as to add a further 1 million tonnes of capacity in Singapore.135 And UPM (Finland), which produces HVO from tall oil at its Lappeenranta biorefinery, announced plans to carry out an environmental impact assessment as the first stage of developing a new Finnish plant that would use a wider range of biomass raw materials to produce 500,000 tonnes of renewable diesel fuel.136

The US Renewable Energy Group, which has 14 production sites in the United States and Germany, announced plans in 2017 to increase the capacity at its Geismar, Louisiana plant by 178 million litres (47 million gallons) per year.137 Valero Energy Corporation and Darling Ingredients Inc. (both United States) are expanding their Diamond Green Diesel production facility in Norco, Louisiana from 605 million litres to 1,040 million litres (160 million gallons to 275 million gallons) of renewable diesel annually, and announced plans in 2017 to further increase capacity to 2,080 million litres (550 million gallons).138

The emerging cellulosic ethanol industry saw mixed progress in 2017, with large-scale production growing but remaining limited to only a small number of facilities. The volume of cellulosic ethanol that qualified under the US RFS increased by a factor greater than 2.5 in 2017; however, production still reached only some 38 million litres.139 Two commercial-scale flagship plants closed in 2017: after the merger of DuPont and Dow (both United States), the plant producing ethanol from corn stover in the US state of Nevada was mothballed, and the Chemtex plant in Crescentino, Italy was closed following the failure of the parent company Gruppo Mossi Ghisolfi (Italy).140

Elsewhere, production increased at a number of existing plants including Brazil’s Raizen plant, which was expected to double its production to 14 million litres of cellulosic ethanol in 2017, and at the country’s Granbio plant.141 Poet-DSM (United States) announced that the critical pre-treatment phase of its Liberty plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa, which produces ethanol from corn residues, was operating successfully, opening the way to sustained production.142 The integrated production of ethanol from cellulosic residues such as corn kernels in conventional corn ethanol plants in the United States is expanding. Five plants, with a total capacity of nearly 2 billion litres (500 million gallons) and based on technology developed by Edeniq (United States), were approved by the US EPA in 2017.143

In Europe, Borregaard (Norway) produced some 20 million litres of cellulosic ethanol in 2017 – along with a range of other products – at its biorefinery in Norway.144 A number of new plants also were announced in 2017, including an investment in a plant by Clariant (Switzerland) that will produce 50,000 tonnes of cellulosic ethanol in south-western Romania.145 Clariant also licensed its technology to Enviral (Slovak Republic), which plans to build a 50,000 tonne per year plant in the Slovak city of Leopoldov.146

India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas announced plans to build at least 12 commercial-scale advanced biofuel plants – mainly to produce cellulosic ethanol from the large volumes of plant residues in the country – in order to help reduce fossil fuel import dependency, reduce pollution from in-field burning of crop residues, and improve energy security and independence.147 Plans are progressing to build these plants based on Indian and international expertise. For example, Bharat Petroleum Company selected Praj Industries (both India), which opened a large-scale cellulosic ethanol plant in 2017, to build a 37 million litre per year facility in Bargarh in the state of Odisha, using biomass feedstock sourced from the local farming community.148

Commercialisation of thermal processes such as pyrolysis and gasification also advanced in 2017. Enerkem (Canada) adapted its commercial-scale gasification plant in Edmonton, Alberta, which processes 300 tonnes per day of sorted municipal wastes, to produce ethanol instead of methanol, and the fuel qualifies for use as cellulosic ethanol under the US RFS.149 Additional plants based on this technology are under development in the Netherlands, where Enerkam, along with Air Liquide (France), AkzoNobel (Netherlands) and the Port Authority, agreed to provide initial funding to develop a project in Rotterdam; and in China, where the Sinobioway Group (China) has provided an equity stake in a joint venture company that aims to develop the Chinese market for this technology.150 In addition, Ensyn (Canada) has been successfully providing fuels from its Ontario-based pyrolysis plant to US customers, qualifying under the US RFS2 programme.151


overtook the United States in 2017 as the world's largest producer of bioelectricity

In Norway, a first-of-its-kind demonstration plant is being developed based on hydro liquefaction technology, which subjects solid biomass to high temperatures and pressures. The clean fuel company Steeper Energy (Denmark and Canada) will license its proprietary Hydrofaction technology to Silva Green Fuel, a Norwegian-Swedish joint venture. With an investment of USD 76.8 million, the plant will use wood wastes and produce a hydrocarbon product that can be converted to renewable diesel or jet fuel.152 Licella (Australia) is in a joint venture with the forestry company Canfor (Canada) to produce and upgrade bio-crude produced by a hydrothermal liquefaction process in the Canadian province of British Columbia, and has announced plans to build a plant in Australia.153


Although the use of biofuels in aviation is seen as a long-term priority, the quantity of biofuels used in aviation is still a very small fraction of total fuel use in the sector.154 In 2017, a number of airlines and airports made progress in using biofuels for long-haul flights, securing appropriate fuels and making biofuels available at key airports. Virgin Australia procured aviation fuels from Gevo (United States), and Chicago’s O’Hare airport also used fuel from Gevo to supply biofuel for eight airlines using the airport for a trial period.155 Qantas signed a long-term supply contract with Agrisoma (France) to supply fuels based on carinata oil seed, and carried out a trans-Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne using a 10% blend of carinata-based biofuels.156 China’s Hainan Airlines also made a trans-Pacific flight from Beijing to Chicago using biofuel derived from waste cooking oil.157

Interest in the use of biofuels in marine applications increased in 2017, pushed by the short-term requirement to reduce sulphur emissions from ships in coastal regions, as well as by longer-term carbon targets.158 Several projects aim to demonstrate the use of biofuels in the marine sector. For example, GoodFuels (Netherlands) collaborated with the Dutch Coast Guard to supply biofuels for use in its ships, and collaborated with Heineken and Nedcargo (both Netherlands) to demonstrate the use of biofuels on inland waterways, transporting beer from a brewery in Zouterwoude to Rotterdam.159 Following initiatives by the US Navy – the Great Green Fleet – the Australian navy has been trialling biofuels in its fleet (particularly to facilitate joint US/Australian operations).160

Biofuels also are being used increasingly as a fuel in rail transport. In the Netherlands, Arriva (Netherlands) is supplying 18 new trains fuelled with biodiesel that are being brought into service.161 Indian Railways is experimenting with the use of biodiesel, compressed biogas and ethanol on its networks.162

Gaseous Biomass Industry

Biogas (a mixture principally consisting of methane and carbon dioxide, CO2) can be produced by the anaerobic digestion of a range of biological materials including the organic fraction in MSW, food wastes, sewage, animal manures, liquid industrial effluents and crops grown specifically to be digested. Biogas also is produced as waste decays in landfill sites (landfill gas) and can be collected for fuel use, thereby reducing emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can be a safety hazard as well.

Biogas also can be upgraded to biomethane by removing the CO2 and other gases, enabling its use more easily in transport and for injection into natural gas pipelines. Biomethane production has been growing, but different end-uses are favoured in different countries.163 For example, in the United States and Sweden biomethane is produced mainly for transport applications, but in the United Kingdom it is used mostly as a pipeline gas.

In the United States, biogas is produced mainly from landfill gas for use in power generation.164 However, a growing trend is to upgrade the gas to biomethane for use in transport, where it qualifies as an advanced biofuel. Although this sector grew some 15% in 2017, this is a significant slowdown from the six-fold increase between 2014 and 2016.165

Biogas production in Europe is focused mainly on the anaerobic digestion of agricultural wastes (including animal manures) and, increasingly, on the digestion of recovered food wastes (for example, in Sweden and the United Kingdom).166 More than 500 biomethane facilities now exist in Europe.167 However, progress in some markets (such as the United Kingdom) has slowed because of regulatory changes affecting tariffs available for electricity, heat and biomethane production. Biogas production also is seen as an important tool to reduce corporate carbon footprints. For example, the Swedish beer manufacturer Carlsberg converted its brewery in Falkenerg, Sweden to 100% biogas in 2017.168

In India, in addition to 4.9 million small-scale biogas digesters used for household energy production ( see Distributed Renewables chapter), biogas production increasingly is seen as a constructive way to deal with municipal and food wastes and agricultural residues. Capacity for large-scale biogas production in India increased to 300 MW by the end of 2017.169 In a project developed in Palava City, Mumbai in 2017, the gas produced from the digestion of MSW is cleaned and used for power generation, and the facility also produces bio-fertiliser.170

Although small-scale biogas digesters are being deployed around the world, the production and use of biogas at the medium and larger scales in other regions is not well developed. However, significant potential exists – for example, from agricultural residue, manure and vinassevii residue from sugar ethanol production in Brazil – and some larger-scale plants started operating in 2017.171 In Durazno, Uruguay the agricultural company EDL began expanding its digester plant to produce up to 8 MW of electricity from cattle manure feedstock at a facility that produces dried milk.172 Kenya’s Olivado plant, which produces oil from avocados, is installing a biogas system that will reduce its waste streams and make the plant self-sufficient in energy, producing 1.5 GWh annually.173

Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage or Use

Many low-carbon scenarios depend on the capture and storage of carbon dioxide produced when bioenergy is used to produce heat, electricity or transport fuels.174 Removal from the atmosphere of such CO2 is seen as having a double benefit that leads to “negative emissions”. Although interest in such options is increasing, in the absence of strong policy drivers that might make such projects economic and socially acceptable, only a very limited number of large-scale projects are demonstrating this technology.175 The option of producing biocharviii alongside bioenergy production is also being investigated as a means to sequester carbon.176


In 2017, operations started at the Illinois Industrial CCS Project, owned and operated by Archer Daniels Midlands and the first large-scale project to combine carbon capture and storage with a bioenergy feedstock. The Decatur, Illinois project will capture 1 million tonnes of CO2 annually from the distillation of corn into ethanol.177 The CO2 will be compressed and dehydrated, then injected on-site for permanent storage at a depth of some 2.1 kilometres.178

Also being studied is the feasibility of capturing and storing the CO2 produced at an existing municipal waste incinerator in Oslo, Norway, where the waste heat produced is used for district heating.179 More than 400,000 tonnes of CO2 could be captured and stored in the offshore carbon storage facilities under development.180

A further possibility is to recycle the carbon captured from bioenergy production via chemical or biological processes to form fuels or chemicals, using hydrogen from sustainable low-carbon sources, such as from the electrolysis of water using renewable electricity (bioenergy with carbon capture and use, or BECCU). These options do not have “negative emissions” because the CO2 is released when the produced fuels are used.181 Although few large-scale projects exist that use CO2 from bioenergy processes in this way, a number of examples have emerged in Belgium, Germany, Iceland and India where CO2 from non-bioenergy sources is being recovered and used to make hydrocarbon fuels.182 While such processes do not produce biofuels, the products also reduce carbon emissions and can be an important way to demonstrate the technology that will be needed for BECCU projects and to improve the overall efficiency with which biomass can be used.183

iThe traditional use of biomass for heat involves the burning of woody biomass or charcoal as well as dung and other agricultural residues in simple and inefficient devices.i

iiThe bioeconomy comprises those parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources from the land and sea to produce food, materials and energy.ii

iiiMunicipal solid waste contains a significant proportion of biomass materials (food wastes, used wood, etc.), and the energy produced from this part of the waste is usually considered to be renewable. The proportion of renewable energy supplied varies according to the specific waste composition, but a value of 50% is often used as a default. Given the potentially toxic nature of the flue gases from such fuels, plants using MSW should be fitted with stringent emission control systems to avoid adverse impacts on air quality.iii

ivAll references to ethanol in the GSR refer to bioethanol, that is, ethanol derived from biomass. Ethanol is produced principally from sugar- and starch-containing materials including corn, sugar cane, wheat and cassava. After pre-treatment and fermentation the ethanol is separated by distillation. Most biodiesel is made by chemically treating vegetable oils and fats (including palm, soy and canola oils, and some animal fats) to produce FAME biodiesel. Ethanol and biodiesel are collectively referred to as “conventional biofuels”. While FAME fuels can be used in diesel engines, their properties depend on their origin and differ from those of fossil-based diesel, so they are usually used as a blend with fossil diesel products. An alternative is to take the oils and treat them with hydrogen to produce a hydrocarbon product that then can be refined to produce fuels with properties equivalent to those of a range of fuels derived from fossil fuels such as diesel or jet fuel. These fuels are described as HVO/HEFA and sometimes as renewable diesel. (See, for example, Aviation Initiative for Renewable Fuels in Germany, “Hydro-processed esters and fatty acids (HEFA)“, In addition, a range of other biofuels are produced at a much smaller scale, including ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks, pyrolysis oils, etc. See Liquid Fuels Industry section of the Bioenergy text for further details and references.iv

vThere is still no consensus about the sustainability of such large-scale supply of wood pellets, although most large-scale use is subject to certification. For a discussion of the main issues, see IEA, Technology Roadmap: Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy (Paris: 2017), pp. 48-55,

viTall oil is a mixture of compounds found in pine trees and is obtained as a byproduct of the pulp and paper

viiVinasse is an organic residue left after distillation to produce ethanol.vii

viiiBiochar is defined here as charcoal produced intentionally from wood in order to sequester carbon. Biochar may be used as a soil conditioner.viii

Geothermal Power and Heat


Ocean Energy

Solar Photovoltaics (PV)

Concentrating Solar Thermal Power (CSP)

Solar Thermal Heating and Cooling

Wind Power