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How bioenergy contributes to a sustainable future – IEA Bioenergy report

How bioenergy contributes to a sustainable future – IEA Bioenergy report
Dina Bacovsky, Chair of IEA Bioenergy, presents the latest Bioenergy Review, an assessment report on the global status of bioenergy during the 7th Central European Biomass Conference (CEBC), in Graz, Austria.

Bioenergy is today the largest source of renewable energy, representing around 10 percent of the global energy supply. The IEA Bioenergy Review Update 2023, released in Graz, Austria during the 7th Central European Biomass Conference (CEBC), presents an evidence-based assessment of the status of bioenergy around the world.

Launched on January 19, 2023, by Dina Bacovsky, Chair of IEA Bioenergy during CEBC, the IEA Bioenergy Review Update 2023, is based on work conducted by over 200 experts, active within the Tasks of the IEA Bioenergy Technology Collaboration Programme (TCP).

The aim of IEA Bioenergy is to advance bioenergy technologies and provide factual input to evidence-based decisions in relation to biofuels and bioenergy.

The goal of the report is to “reinvigorate awareness and interest in bioenergy, address concerns that arise in the public debate, and demonstrate the synergies between bioenergy and other renewable as well as the biobased economy, and point out opportunities that can be seized by many countries around the globe.”

The information provided in the report is complemented by information from other multilateral initiatives such as the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, and the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP), organizations that focus on emerging economies and developing countries and, for instance, on topics such as phasing out the traditional use of biomass and replacing it with clean cooking options, said Dina Bacovsky.

Distributed as an open web-based publication to enhance usability, the report is divided into two parts:

  • Part A “Strategic View on Biomass and Bioenergy
    deals with bioenergy and its contribution to a  sustainable future.
  • Part B “Technologies for Sustainable Bioenergy
    describes the status and perspectives of different bioenergy technologies.

Replace traditional biomass use with modern

The report emphasizes that ‘traditional’ biomass uses in inefficient and high-polluting devices or open fires need to be phased out as soon as possible.

On the other hand, modern bioenergy in efficient and clean appliances and processes is indispensable for the transformation and decarbonization of our energy system, complementing other renewable energy sources and efforts to reduce energy demand, Dina Bacovsky, with Austria as a case in point, stressed.

The report shows that bioenergy is also an integral part of a circular biobased economy, often valorizing the waste or residues of other biobased production processes.

Bioenergy is very versatile and will contribute to the required transformation in different ways that will, even themselves, change along the transition to our future energy system, Dina Bacovsky added

Subject to the condition that biomass is sustainably sourced and efficiently used, bioenergy not only offers quick solutions for “defossilising” existing infrastructure and fleets, but can also support ecosystems, create socio-economic benefits, provide for clean cooking, and stabilize an energy system in transition, 

Bioenergy is one of the important and necessary elements in combating climate change. Climate change, however, is not the only driver of bioenergy deployment. The Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine pointed to the risks inherent in global supply chains and the value of a diversified supply that is more regionally based, said Dina Bacovsky.

A necessary facilitator of a sustainable future

With energy security again becoming a critical issue, bioenergy is able to improve the resilience of societies around the globe by providing greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions, regional energy supply, income to rural communities, and energy system flexibility.

Sustainability is a key issue to consider in all human activities. Acting sustainably means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Sustainability is a broad policy concept and consists of at least three main dimensions: the environmental, economic, and social dimensions, Dina Bacovsky explained.

GHG emissions, the emission of local air pollutants, biodiversity, land and water use, etc., all come within the purview of environmental sustainability.

The report highlights that forests and agricultural landscapes can be sustainably managed so that they can, in addition to main food or wood products, deliver biomass for bioenergy to reduce GHG emissions in the energy system while also maintaining or improving biodiversity, carbon sinks, and species abundance.

In many regions, bioenergy has to comply with strict sustainability criteria and standards so as to assure effective GHG emission reductions, the preservation of carbon stocks in soils and forests, and the conservation of biodiversity.

The term economic sustainability encompasses the supply of sufficient quantities of biomass feedstocks at reasonable prices.

Costs for biomass feedstocks and bioenergy carriers vary regionally and also depend on their intended use and what competition there is from other market actors for the same feedstocks, Dina Bacovsky said.

Also in the report, social sustainability deals with how sustainability affects people, their health and well-being, and their ability to make a decent living.

No part of a tree is wasted: how sustainable bioenergy utilizes wood residues in a bioeconomy (graphic courtesy IEA Bioenergy).

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which all United Nations Member States have adopted and aim to achieve by 2030, balance the three dimensions of sustainability and aim for a just transition to a sustainable future.

Biomass production and use can positively contribute to the achievement of various Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as has been demonstrated in different cases around the globe.

Modern bioenergy allows for more efficient use of domestic resources for energy production and economic activity.

It is not only part of the solution, modern bioenergy is a facilitator of the whole process:

  • It creates room for diversified investments, as some bioenergy technologies are ready and suitable for existing infrastructure.
  • Demand for sustainable biomass resources shapes sustainable forestry and agricultural practices which supports ecosystems and contributes to biodiversity.
  • Biomass supply chains involve a broader cross-section of society, supporting economic democratization and decentralization.
  • Bioenergy versatility and the possibility of long-term storage mitigate the instability of an energy system in transition.

In short, the report concludes that no matter which sustainability avenues are chosen, modern bioenergy will be part of the picture.

A conclusion well evidenced by the many “doers” in attendance at CEBC.

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