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Bioenergy continues to play a prominent role in the global energy mix – WBA

Fossil fuels dominate the global energy mix and the dependence continued in recent years. During 2016 – 2017, the primary energy supply of fossil fuels has increased more than the supply of renewable energy sources. The 1.5 percent increase in total primary energy supply has been matched by coal, oil, and natural gas while renewables are lagging behind at 0.7 percent, a trend set to continue according to the Global Bioenergy Statistics 2019 from the World Bioenergy Association (WBA).

Total primary energy supply (in EJ) 2000 – 2017 (source IEA 2019). The share of renewable supply has been constant over the past 17 years. During 2015 – 2016, the primary energy supply of renewables increased by almost 3 EJ. However, their growth decreased in 2017 with less than 0.5 EJ added to the energy supply while at the same time, fossil fuels added 7 EJ thereby matching the increasing demand for energy globally (graphic courtesy WBA).

According to the WBA’s Global Bioenergy Statistics 2019 report, the 5th in the series of reports that focuses on bioenergy developments from around the world, the gross final energy consumption in 2017 was 370 EJ – an increase of 2 percent over the past year.

Forty percent of the energy consumed globally comes in the form of oil and oil products while coal and gas have an equal share of 20 percent each. Combined, fossil fuels accounted for 80 percent of energy consumption globally in 2017. The share of renewable energy in the gross final energy consumption globally was 17.7 percent in 2017 – a drop of 0.2 percent over the previous year.

Bioenergy largest renewable but dominance decreasing

Among renewable energy sources, bioenergy (energy from biobased sources) is the largest contributor. In 2017, bioenergy accounted for 70 percent of renewable energy consumption. However, the report notes that the contribution of bioenergy share has been decreasing by a few percentage points – by approximately  0.5 – 1 percent annually – partly due to the decreasing use of traditional biomass sources.

Chipping dry logging residue at a biomass fuel terminal in central Sweden. The fuel is used by district heat and combined heat and power (CHP) plants in the region.

In energy terms, 55.6 EJ of biomass was utilized for energy purposes in 2017 – 86 percent of the use was in the form of primary solid biofuels including woodchips, wood pellets, fuelwood for cooking and heating. Seven percent of the biomass was used as liquid biofuels. Biogas, municipal waste, industrial waste had an almost equal share at 2 – 3 percent.

Renewable energy technologies have made considerable progress in decarbonizing the electricity sector. In 2017, renewable electricity covered about 25 percent of the electricity generated globally. In 2017, electricity from biomass-based sources was the 3rd largest renewable electricity source after hydropower and wind. 596 TWh of biopower was generated.

Biomass for heat is hot

Almost half of all energy consumption is in the form of heat – space heating for residential and commercial establishments and heating demand for industrial processes. One of the most widely used renewable energy sources for derived heating is biomass which has a 96 percent share in the renewable heat market globally.

Biomass dominates the end-use sector of direct heating. In 2017, 40 EJ of biomass was consumed in end-use sectors of residential, commercial, agriculture and industry for heating and cooking purposes which accounts for about 95 percent of renewable energy use in these sectors.

In the transport sector, biomass-based fuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel are seen as one of the best available now options for replacing fossil oil. The share of biofuels in the transport sector in 2017 was about 3 percent with a total contribution of 3.5 EJ.

Agricultural residues offer promising growth potential

The report highlights that residues from agriculture offer one of the most promising growth potentials for bioenergy production. Currently, the sector contributes less than 3 percent of the total bioenergy production.

Data shows that utilizing the residues from all major crops for energy can generate approximately 4.3 billion tonnes (low estimate) to 9.4 billion tonnes (high estimate) annually around the world.

A round bale of cereal straw
According to the World Bioenergy Association (WBA) Global Bioenergy Statistics 2019 report, utilizing the residues from all major crops for energy can generate approximately 4.3 billion tonnes (low estimate) to 9.4 billion tonnes (high estimate) annually around the world.

Utilizing standard energy conversion factors, the theoretical energy potential from residues can be in the range of 17.8 EJ to 82.3 EJ. The major contribution would be from cereals – mainly maize, rice, and wheat. Energy generation from agricultural residues could meet about 3 – 14 percent of the total energy supply globally.

Currently, the forestry sector is the largest contributor to the bioenergy mix globally. Forestry products including charcoal, fuelwood, pellets, and woodchips account for more than 85 percent of all the biomass used for energy purposes.

One of the primary products from forests that are used for bioenergy production is woodfuel. Most of the woodfuel is used for traditional cooking and heating in developing countries in Asia and Africa. Globally, 1.9 billion m3 of woodfuel was used for energy purposes.

The third and final category for bioenergy supply in the report is municipal and industrial waste utilized for energy predominantly in urban areas. In 2017, the domestic supply of waste to bioenergy was 2.51 EJ – 58 percent was in the form of municipal waste while the remaining was industrial waste to energy.

Woodchips and dryers at a wood pellet plant in the US south.

Special sectors deal with data on biogas, pellets, and charcoal. In 2018, 35.4 million tonnes of wood pellets were produced – 55 percent of the production occurred in Europe while the Americas (mainly the United States) accounted for 31 percent.

In 2017, 1.33 EJ of biogas was produced globally while Europe accounted for more than half of the annual production. With regard to charcoal, 51.6 million tonnes of charcoal were produced globally with Africa as the main producer and consumer of charcoal accounting for 65 percent of the production and using predominantly for cooking.

The report notes that renewable energy technologies create jobs. Globally, 11 million people were employed in the renewable energy industry by the end of 2018. Bioenergy is the 2nd largest employer globally with approx. 3.2 million people working in the bioenergy supply chain.

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