- Modern bioenergy provided 5.6% of total global final energy demand in 2020, accounting for 47% of all renewable energy in final energy consumption.
- In 2020, modern bioenergy provided 14.7 exajoules (EJ) for heating, or 7.6% of global requirements; two-thirds of this was used in industry and agriculture and the rest in buildings.
- In 2021, global biofuel production recovered to 2019 levels at around 4.1 EJ. Overall biofuel production has increased 56% since 2011, with rising shares of biodiesel and rapid growth in hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), which grew 36% in 2021 to 0.33 EJ.
- Bioelectricity production grew 10% in 2021, dominated by China. Generation has increased 88% since 2011, driven by growth in China and some other Asian and European producers.
Bioenergy involves the use of many different biological materials for energy purposes, including residues from agriculture and forestry, solid and liquid organic wastes (including municipal solid waste and sewage), and crops grown especially for energy.1 Use of these feedstocks can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing substitutes for fossil fuels when providing heat for buildings and industrial processes, fuelling transport and generating electricity.2 Coupled with carbon capture and use/storage, bioenergy can lead to additional emission reductions and even negative emissions.3
When sustainable, the production and use of bioenergy can help promote energy security and price stability while delivering social and economic benefits that support the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including stimulating rural economic activity.4 However bioenergy can pose sustainability risks if projects are not managed carefully, and strong governance frameworks are essential to ensure positive outcomes.5 Other barriers to bioenergy deployment include its relatively high costs, as well as challenges related to market access.6
Bioenergy use worldwide totalled an estimated 44 exajoules (EJ) in 2020 (latest available data), or around 12.3% of global total final energy consumption (TFEC).7 (→ See Figure 24.) More than half of this (24.1 EJ) was the traditional use of biomassi for cooking and heating in developing and emerging economies (6.7% of TFEC).8 Other, more modern and efficient uses of bioenergyi provided an estimated 20.3 EJ or 5.6% of TFEC.9 Overall, bioenergy represented around 47% of the estimated renewable energy use in global TFEC in 2020, down from 54% in 2010.10
Modern bioenergy for heating in buildings and industry provided around 14.7 EJ in 2020 (7.6% of the global energy use for heating).11 Transport use amounted to 3.7 EJ (3.5% of transport energy needs).12 Bioenergy also provided 1.8 EJ to the global electricity supply (2.4% of the total).13
The traditional use of bioenergy – which involves burning biomass in simple and inefficient fires or stoves – has fallen 8% since 2011 to an estimated 24.1 EJ in 2020.14 (→ See Global Overview chapter.) To reduce the impacts of unsustainable harvesting of biomass and to avoid the severe impacts on air quality and public health, a major international effort is under way to transition from traditional bioenergy use towards clean cooking solutions for all.15 Options include liquefied petroleum gas (LPG, although this is less compatible with long-term climate ambitions) as well as solutions based on renewable electricity and cleaner biomass, such as ethanol fuels and wood briquettes and pellets.16
The traditional use of bioenergy – which involves burning biomass in simple and inefficient fires or stoves – has fallen
Modern bioenergy can supply heat for industry and buildings, using systems such as stoves and boilers that are designed to be much more efficient than open fires and that can achieve low emission levels. Biomass fuels can be used directly to produce heat, or, alternatively, bio-heat can be produced and distributed to consumers – including through the co-generation of electricity and heat using combined heat and power (CHP) systems and through the use of district heating networks to reach final consumers. Most of the biomass used for heating is wood fuel, although liquid and gaseous biofuels also are used, including biomethane, which can be injected into natural gas distribution systems.17 (→ See Box 7.)
BOX 7. Biogas and Biomethane
Biogas – a mixture of methane, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases – is produced by anaerobic digestion, a biological process that occurs when organic materials ferment in the absence of oxygen. The same process occurs in waste landfills, and the resulting landfill gas can be collected and used, providing energy while also reducing emissions from the landfill site. The gases can be used directly for heating or power generation. Alternatively, the methane component can be separated and compressed (forming biomethane) and used to replace fossil gas by injecting it into gas pipelines or for transport purposes.
Around 80% of the biogas produced worldwide is used for power generation, split roughly equally between power generation alone and co-generation, often stimulated by favourable feed-in tariffs and other support mechanisms. The remaining biogas is used for heating, transport and other applications. Biomethane production totalled an estimated 1.4 EJ in 2020, or just over 1% of total global fossil gas demand Production of biomethane has grown rapidly, doubling between 2015 and 2019 to 140 petajoules (PJ), with more than 1,000 biomethane production plants now in operation. The United States is the largest producing country, stimulated by the national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and by California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). Production also has grown in Europe, where policy priorities determine the use of biomethane. Where extensive natural gas networks exist, it often is used to replace pipeline fossil gas: for example, the UK's Green Gas Support Scheme encourages pipeline injection of biomethane. In Sweden, where gas distribution is less common, transport use of biomethane dominates.
In developing economies, biogas has been used at a small scale as a sustainable fuel source for cooking, heating and electricity production and to improve energy access. (→ See Global Overview chapter.).
Source: See endnote 17 for this section.
Between 2010 and 2020, modern bioenergy use in buildings increased an estimated 7% to 4.9 EJ, providing 5.2% of the world's building heat in 2020.18 The demand for heat in buildings, and for biomass to heat them, was not greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during that year.19 The major markets are in Europe and North America.20
The use of biomass for heat production in industry occurs primarily in bio-based industries and agriculture, such as paper and board, sugar and other food products, and wood-based industries. These industries often use their wastes and residues to generate energy: for example, sugarcane bagasse is used to produce electricity and heat for sugar processing. Between 2015 and 2020, the use of bioenergy for industrial heat increased 8% to 9.9 EJ.21
Bioenergy use for industrial heating is concentrated in countries with large bio-based industries, such as Brazil, China, India and the United States. This production (and use) also is linked to the level of industrial production, although bio-heat use in industry remained stable in 2020 despite overall reductions in the production of paper products and sugar-based ethanol (where bagasse is used to produce heat and power).22
Bioenergy's contribution to heating in industry and buildings in 2020 included some 0.7 EJ provided through district heating systems.23 This sector has expanded rapidly, up nearly 70% since 2015, especially in Europe.24 The use of district heat was split nearly evenly between buildings (49%) and industrial and agricultural uses (51%).25
In general, the use of biomass for heating, like other renewable sources, receives insufficient policy attention. However, the European Union (EU) has promoted the uptake of renewable heat alternatives to meet the requirements of the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED).26 The policy measures include capital grants for biomass heating systems, taxes and duties on fossil fuels (including carbon taxes) and, increasingly, constraints on the use of oil and gas for heating.27 In part because of these measures, between 2015 and 2020 the use of bio-heat in the EU-27 grew 10% to 3.7 EJ (→ See Figure 25.) and increased from 17.6% to 19.5% of regional heat demand.28 The direct use of biomass for heat in the EU-27 rose 8%, while bioenergy use in district heating systems grew 18% to 0.64 EJ.29
In 2020, Germany, France and Sweden were the top EU countries for bio-heat use.30 Poland became the fourth largest user, with its bio-heat use rising 62% between 2010 and 2020, notably for district heating.31 Italy was the EU's fifth largest bio-heat user as well as the world's largest user of wood pellets.32 Together, these five countries accounted for 55% of the EU's bio-heat demand in 2020.33
More than 90% of the biomass used for heating in the EU-27 in 2020 was in solid form such as wood logs, chips and pellets.34 The use of wood pellets in the EU more than doubled between 2010 and 2020 to 294 PJ (16.4 million tonnes).35 (→ See Box 8.) Municipal solid waste provided around 5% of the bio-heat supplied and is an important contributor to EU district heating schemes; its use in district heating increased 45% between 2010 and 2015, and it supplied just over one-fifth (21%) of the EU's district heat in 2020.36 The use of biogas and biomethane for heating in the EU-27 grew 45% between 2010 and 2015, and these sources provided 5% of the region's biomass heating in 2020.37 In Denmark, biomethane provided nearly one-quarter of all gas used in 2021, up sharply from 2020.38
North America is the second leading user of modern bioenergy for heating, but demand fell around 10% between 2015 and 2020 in the absence of strong policy measures and due to the relatively low costs of oil and natural gas.39 Bioenergy use for heating in industry also declined during this period, down 9% to 2.1 EJ.40 Demand for bio-heat in the US residential sector fell 11% to 0.4 EJ.41 The number of people in the United States relying primarily on wood fuels dropped from 2.5 million to below 1.8 million.42 Biomass use in the US commercial sector fell 3% during 2015-2020 to reach 0.14 EJ.43
TRANSPORT BIOFUEL MARKETS
Current production and use of biofuels for transport are based on ethanol (produced mainly from corn, sugar cane and cereals), FAME (fatty acid methyl ester) biodiesel and, increasingly, HVO (hydrogenated vegetable oil) or HEFA (hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids), also called renewable diesel.44 In addition, biomethane is used in transport. Although most biofuels today are used in road transport, the industry is developing and commercialising new biofuels designed to serve new markets, notably in aviation.45
Biofuels can provide a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. They typically can be used in vehicles designed for fossil fuels, either as blends with petrol and diesel fuels, or with relatively minor engine modifications. The main barriers to widespread biofuel uptake include higher costs than conventional fuels, limited availability of certain feedstocks and the need to carefully manage the sustainability risks.
Between 2011 and 2021, the production of transport biofuels grew 56% (in energy terms), from 2.6 EJ to 4.1 EJ.46 (→ See Figure 26.) Biofuel production fell sharply in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic led to reduced transport energy demand and restricted blending; however, production recovered in 2021 to levels near those of 2019, although growth was constrained by very high feedstock costs.47 Since 2011, the share of biodiesel in the biofuel mix has grown from 29% to 37%, due largely to rising production in Asia.48 Production and use of HVO have grown strongly from low levels in 2011 to 9% of the total in 2021.49
BOX 8. Biomass Pellets
Between 2015 and 2020, the annual global production of wood pellets increased from 27 million tonnes to 41 million tonnes (0.51 EJ to O.78 EJ). The EU was the largest regional producer in 2020 with 18 million tonnes (45% of global production), while other European countries provided nearly 5 million tonnes (12%). North America produced some 12.5 million tonnes in 2020, up from 9.5 million tonnes in 2015. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, global pellet production grew 5% between 2019 and 2020.
In 2020, 22 million tonnes of wood pellets were used worldwide to provide heat in the residential and commercial sectors, with the market growing by 0.3 million tonnes between 2019 and 2020. Pellet use for power generation, CHP production and other industrial purposes increased more than 10% to 20 million tonnes in 2020, mainly because of a sharp rise in imports to Japan. The United States was the world's largest exporter of wood pellets in 2020; exports rose 1% to 6.8 million tonnes, even though US pellet production fell 2% to 9.3 million tonnes.
Debate continues regarding the carbon savings and other environmental impacts associated with pellet production from forestry materials and their use in power generation. Starting in 2020, the EU's RED set tighter sustainability criteria for the use of solid biomass, and starting in 2021 it set minimum greenhouse gas reduction thresholds for new projects seeking national support. Japan is enacting sustainability criteria aimed at reducing the use of palm-based products but increasing the use of certified wood pellets.
Source: See endnote 35 for this section.
Ethanol remains the leading source of transport biofuels. Production increased 26% overall between 2011 and 2021 to 2.3 EJ (105 billion litres), although it declined in 2020 precipitated by the pandemic-related drop in global petrol use for road transport.50
The United States and Brazil remain the dominant ethanol producers, together accounting for 80% of global production in 2021.51 The United States produced 54% of the global supply, principally from corn, while Brazil produced 29%, mainly from sugar cane but with growing levels from corn.52 Since 2010, China has been the third largest ethanol producer, providing 3% of the global supply (70 PJ or 3.3 billion litres) in 2021, followed by India, where production and use increased nine-fold during this period to 68 PJ (3.2 billion litres), to represent nearly 3% of global supply.53 This reflects India's national initiative to reduce its import dependence by increasing the ethanol blend in petrol to 20% by 2025.54
Global production of biodiesel nearly doubled between 2011 and 2021 to 1.5 EJ (45 billion litres).55 Biodiesel production is more widely distributed than that of ethanol, due to the wider range of feedstocks that can be processed, including vegetable oils from palm, soya, and rapeseed, and a variety of wastes and residues, including used cooking oil.
Biodiesel production in Asia has grown rapidly. Indonesia is now the world's biodiesel leader, increasing production 11-fold since 2011 to more than 8 billion litres in 2021, or 18% of the global total.56 In an effort to reduce its dependence on imported oil, Indonesia raised its biodiesel blending target from 20% to 30% in January 2020 and was aiming for a 40% target in 2021.57 However, this step-up was pushed to 2022 because of high feedstock costs.58 By using domestically produced biodiesel, Indonesia was able to reduce its oil import costs by a reported USD 4.0 billion in 2021.59
Brazil is the world's second largest biodiesel producer, with production rising by a factor of 2.5 since 2011 to 6.8 billion litres in 2021.60 Production has been stimulated by a rising domestic blending level, slated to reach 13% in 2021 and 15% by 2023.61 However, in 2021 the blending limit was reduced from 12% to 10% because of high soya prices, which raised the cost of biodiesel and reduced demand.62
US biodiesel production grew 70% between 2011 and 2021, boosted by the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS2), by California's LCFS and by the re-introduction of the federal Biodiesel Blender's Tax Credit.63 US biodiesel production was constrained in 2019 by the pandemic-related drop in transport demand.64 While production (and sales) of biodiesel recovered partially in 2020, they fell again in 2021 due largely to the high cost of soya oil, which rose by a factor of three during the year and rendered manufacture financially unattractive.65
The production of HVO, produced by hydrogenating bio-based oils fats and greases, has grown rapidly from very low levels in 2011 to an estimated 9.5 billion litres in 2021, a 36% increase from 2020.66 Capacity continues to rise quickly, with investments in stand-alone plants, but also with several oil companies, including TotalEnergies, Phillips, ENI and Marathon, converting refineries to HVO processes.67 While early production capacity was concentrated in Finland, the Netherlands, and Singapore, more recently production has surged in the United States, driven by a strong domestic market heavily incentivised by the RFS2, by California's LCFS and by the availability of an investment tax credit.68
Global production of biodiesel
between 2011 and 2021 to
The use of biofuels as an aviation fuel has become a focus of policy attention. Switching to sustainable aviation fuelii (SAF) is a key pillar of aviation industry commitments to reduce emissions from the sector, and increasingly of regional and national policy.69 The EU introduced its REFuelEU Aviation package as part of its Fit for 55 initiative, which targets 2% SAF use for all flights taking off from within the EU by 2025, rising to 63% by 2050.70 In the United States, the Sustainable Aviation Challenge sets a goal for the aviation industry to use 11 billion litres of SAF by 2030.71 The country is proposing a tax credit for SAF and is considering post-2022 targets for SAF in the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.72
Although many trials of SAF based on biofuels have been carried out, the share of SAF in all aviation fuel has remained tiny (below 1%).73 However, production has increased rapidly, from a very low level in 2015 to an estimated 80 PJ (255 million litres) in 2021.74 Production is concentrated in Europe, the United States and China.75
Fuels used in aviation must meet strict standards set by ASTM. So far, eight production routes have been approved.76 These are all based on fuels produced from vegetable oils and fats by hydrogenation, using processes similar to those for HVO production but tuned to optimise the jet fuel fraction. While sufficient feedstock sources exist to meet short-term targets, production and use are likely to be limited by the availability of suitable and sustainable feedstocks. Other technology options include the gasification of solid biomass feedstocks (such as wood and crop residues) and conversion to jet fuels via the Fischer-Tropsch process and the conversion of ethanol to biojet fuel.77
Biomethane is used as a transport fuel mainly in the United States (the largest producer and user of biomethane for transport) and in Europe.78 US production and use are incentivised by the RFS2 (which includes biomethane in the advanced cellulosic biofuels category) and by California's LCFS.79 Under the RFS2, US biomethane use has increased 10-fold since 2014 (when the fuel was introduced into the standard), reaching 41 PJ in 2021.80 In Europe, transport use of biomethane increased around 30% between 2015 and 2020, to 12 PJ.81
Many biomass feedstocks can be used to produce electricity. Around 82% of bioelectricity is produced from solid feedstocks such as wood and forestry products (including wood pellets), agricultural residues (notably sugarcane bagasse, used for 10% of global generation) and municipal solid waste (12%).82 These fuels are combusted, and the heat is used to drive steam turbines to produce electricity. Where possible the overall efficiency can be increased by using CHP systems with the heat used on site (for example, in industry) or transported for use elsewhere in district heating systems or sold for use as process heat by other companies.83 In 2019, 16% of all bioelectricity was produced from feedstocks converted to biogas or biomethane (→ see Box 7) and around 1% from liquid biofuels.84
Global bio-power capacity and generation both increased significantly during 2011-2021 and were not impacted greatly by the pandemic in 2020, with generation protected by long-term power purchase contracts.85 Global capacity more than doubled during the period, reaching an estimated 158 gigawatts, while global generation rose 88% to 656 terawatt-hours (TWh).86 (→ See Figure 27.) Since 2017, China has been the top bio-power producing country, followed (in 2021) by the United States, Brazil, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom and India.87
China was the fastest growing bio-power producer during 2011-2021, with generation increasing by a factor of 4.5 from 32 TWh annually to 146 TWh annually.88 This reflects mainly the strong growth in power production from waste, driven by rising urbanisation, the country's 14th Five-Year Plan, and financial support for this activity, totalling CNY 2.5 billion (USD 400 million) in 2021.89
Bio-power growth also was relatively rapid in the rest of Asia, with generation rising by a factor of 2.4 during 2011-2021 to 138 TWh.90 Japan overtook India as the leading regional producer with 42 TWh in 2021, up from 13 TWh in 2011.91 In India, bioelectricity production grew from 19 TWh to 34 TWh over the period, and in the Republic of Korea it increased more than 14-fold to 13 TWh, encouraged by the Renewable Energy Certificate Scheme and feed-in tariffs.92 In both Japan and the Republic of Korea, growth was due mostly to increased use of imported pelletised fuels.93 Electricity generation also grew significantly in Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.94
In Europe, bioelectricity generation grew 67% during 2011-2021 to reach 221 TWh, mainly in the EU (stimulated by the EU RED) and in the United Kingdom.95 Germany remained the top regional producer, mainly from biogas, although recent growth has been limited.96 In the United Kingdom, bio-power generation rose three-fold during the period, due mostly to higher use of imported wood pellets at the converted Drax power station and to rising generation from municipal solid waste.97 Bioelectricity provided 12.5% of UK electricity production (39.4 TWh) in 2021, with increases in large-scale pelletfired generation, biogas and municipal waste plants.98 Electricity generation in the Netherlands increased to 11 TWh supported by the SDE feed-in premium scheme and to help the country meet its obligations under the EU RED.99 Generation also surged in Denmark, Sweden and France.100
In the Americas, the United States remained the world's second largest bioelectricity producer with 60 TWh in 2021.101 However, US generation fell 15% from its peak in 2015.102 In South America, bio-power generation grew 11% between 2011 and 2021, led by Brazil, which was the third largest global producer in 2021 (560 TWh), with generation doubling since 2011 (based mostly on sugarcane bagasse).103 Generation remained stable in both Chile (7 TWh) and Argentina (3 TWh) in 2021.104
iThe traditional use of biomass for heat involves burning woody biomass or charcoal, as well as dung and other agricultural residues, in simple and inefficient devices to provide energy for residential cooking and heating in developing and emerging economies.i
iiModern bioenergy is any production and use of bioenergy that is not classified as “traditional use of biomass”. ii
iiiAccording to the International Civil Aviation Organization, sustainable aviation fuels are produced from three families of bio-feedstock: the family of oils and fats (or triglycerides), the family of sugars and the family of lignocellulosic feedstock.iii