Biomass production, which is classified as a renewable source of energy, today accounts for 10.5% of the world´s total energy mix. Biomass is a term covering all non-fossil organic material and organic waste, such as forestry and agricultural residues, both from animal and non-animal farming, but also garbage and sewage sludge. With some concerns about biomass production on land replacing food production, this is an exception to the rule. Biomass is usually residue, waste or a by-product. Only biofuel production is known to utilize ethanol from corns: wheat, corn or sugar-beet. (Eurostat 2017; REN21 2017; Victoria State Government 2017; World Energy Council 2016).
According to the World Energy Council (2016), straw as a residue from food production is an example of biomass. Each year, billions of tons of straw, stalk, and foliage remain unused for biomass production. Instead, these are either allowed to rotten or burned freely, emitting considerable amounts of greenhouse gases into Earth´s atmosphere. All of this organic waste, when correctly processed, could instead be utilized as a source of bio energy.
Biomass as a source of energy production is supported by policies in many countries despite of ongoing discussion about the sustainability of certain bioenergy sources. This has led to uncertainties in some markets and affected the willingness to invest into bioenergy. Due to these risk factors, the bioenergy sector has adopted a number of standards, Sustainability Criteria for Bioenergy, known as ISO 13065. In 2016, primary energy supply for biomass was around 62.5 exajoules (one EJ = 1018 J; one J per second = one watt). While worldwide energy demand in the past decade alone has grown by 21%, bioenergy demand has within the same time frame, on the average, grown by 2.5% annually and persistently held its 10.5% share of the total worldwide energy mix. (ECOS 2017; REN21 2017).
In its Global Futures Report 2017 the REN21 states that while biofuels have most commonly replaced fossil fuels in the transport sector, it is not the only technology available. Electric vehicles are another option, with markets such as Norway pioneering the electric vehicle industry. It is largely a question of national policies and new investments into research and development that determine how well various fossil fuel-replacing options can penetrate into a specific market. A world powered with 100% renewable energy is possible, although current infrastructures limit and slow down the pace of renewables replacing fossil fuels, mainly due to socio-economic impacts. (REN21 2017).
Greenhouse gas mitigation and carbon taxes are main drivers for developing the bioenergy market, while drastically dropping oil prices in the past few years have both led to advancements and increased risks for the overall bioenergy market. In markets with zero competition from the fossil fuel industry, such as Sweden, bioenergy has gained significant foothold. Sweden´s pioneering development within the bioenergy sector has led to the fact that more than one-third of the country´s total energy use comes from bioenergy. Sweden is so efficient with bioenergy usage and recycling that the country has to import waste to meet its energy demand. The country aims at becoming 100% renewable in terms of energy. (World Energy Council 2016).
In comparison to for instance solar and wind energy, bioenergy production consumes considerable amounts of water, requires large areas of land and forests, possibly contributing to increased deforestation, unless managed sustainably. Despite of risks like deforestation, countries like Sweden and Finland are known to manage their forest resources in a sustainable manner on a global level, following the directives set by the European Union. (EUbioenergy 2017; European Commission/EU 2017; World Energy Council 2016).
Learn more about the topic by watching U.S. Department of Energy´s video “Energy 101 | Biofuels”:
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