What Are The 3 Primary Ways Of Using Bioenergy?

Bioenergy refers to energy from biomass, which includes any organic matter from plants or animals[1]. Bioenergy is a renewable energy source derived from biological sources, in contrast to fossil fuels which take much longer to replenish. Using bioenergy can help provide energy security, reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and lower greenhouse gas emissions[2]. There are several key ways that bioenergy is utilized:

[1] https://www.nifa.usda.gov/topics/bioenergy

[2] https://www.etipbioenergy.eu/images/ETIP_Bioenergy_Position_Paper_Importance_of_bioenergy.pdf

Heat Production

One of the primary ways bioenergy is used is for heat production through the direct combustion of biomass feedstocks (Geletukha). This involves burning organic matter such as wood, agricultural residues, and waste in a boiler or furnace to produce hot water or steam that can then be used for heating homes, businesses, and industrial processes.

Residential heating applications include wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, and central heating systems fueled by wood pellets or chips. Commercial and industrial facilities can use biomass combustion on a larger scale to provide process heat or district heating systems. Heat production from bioenergy is most common in rural areas with local access to forestry and agricultural resources.

Compared to fossil fuels, using biomass for heating can provide environmental benefits by offsetting carbon emissions. However, poor combustion practices can contribute to air pollution. With proper equipment and emissions controls, biomass heating can provide a renewable alternative to heating oil and natural gas (REA). Overall, direct combustion of biomass is a major utilization pathway for bioenergy globally.

Electricity Generation

Bioenergy plays a significant role in electricity generation worldwide. In 2020, bioenergy electricity generation increased 53 TWh (+8%) from 2019, exceeding the 7% annual rate needed through 2030 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) https://www.iea.org/reports/bioenergy-power-generation. In 2022, bioenergy accounted for 2.3% of global electricity generation according to Statista https://www.statista.com/statistics/1380966/bioenergy-electricity-generation-shares-worldwide/.

There are several ways bioenergy is used to generate electricity:

  • Combustion: Burning biomass materials like wood, agricultural residues, and solid waste directly to produce steam and generate electricity.
  • Gasification: Heating biomass at high temperatures with limited oxygen to produce syngas, which is then used to generate electricity.
  • Anaerobic digestion: Breaking down organic matter like manure and food waste by microorganisms to produce biogas containing methane, which can fuel generators.
  • Landfill gas: Capturing and burning methane gas produced by the decomposition of waste in landfills to generate electricity.

Compared to burning fossil fuels, using bioenergy for electricity significantly reduces lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. However, large-scale biomass power plants require substantial amounts of biomass feedstock, raising sustainability concerns. Overall, bioenergy plays an important role in diversifying electricity generation sources while reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

person inspecting electrical equipment at a biomass power plant.

Transportation Fuels

Biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are commonly used as transportation fuels. Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from corn, sugar cane, or other plant materials. It can be blended with gasoline and used to power vehicles. Most gasoline in the US contains 10% ethanol (E10). Some flexible fuel vehicles can use blends up to 85% ethanol (E85). Ethanol burns cleaner than gasoline and reduces greenhouse gas emissions (source).

Biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, animal fats, or recycled greases. It can be used pure (B100) or blended with petroleum diesel. Common blends are B5 and B20. Biodiesel can be used in diesel engines with little or no modification. It decreases emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and hydrocarbons compared to regular diesel (source).

Using biofuels for transportation helps reduce dependence on fossil fuels and provides environmental benefits. Government policies often encourage and mandate the use of biofuels through renewable fuel standards and blending requirements.

Residential Use

Bioenergy is widely used in homes for cooking, heating, and other residential purposes. According to a 2008 study published in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, up to 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass like wood, charcoal, and dung for residential cooking and heating needs. The residential sector accounts for over 65% of global bioenergy consumption, especially in developing countries where access to other energy sources is limited.

Modern bioenergy technologies like wood pellet stoves, biomass boilers, and biogas digesters are gaining popularity in developed countries as cleaner and more efficient options for home heating compared to traditional fireplaces and stoves. Countries with cold climates like Sweden, Finland, and Austria have high rates of modern bioenergy use for residential space heating. Bioenergy offers homeowners energy independence and stability compared to fluctuating prices and availability of fossil fuels.

Despite the benefits, some downsides to residential bioenergy use include indoor air pollution from traditional stoves and dependence on a steady supply of biomass feedstock. With proper equipment and sustainable harvesting practices, bioenergy can be a renewable, carbon-neutral energy source for residential needs.

Commercial Use

Bioenergy is being increasingly adopted for commercial applications like heating and electricity generation in offices, hospitals, schools, restaurants and other commercial buildings (The Carbon Trust, 2021). Commercial buildings have high heating and electricity demands that can be partly or fully met using bioenergy.

Bioenergy systems like biomass boilers, biogas digesters and cogeneration plants allow commercial spaces to generate heat and power onsite from organic waste streams, agricultural residues or dedicated energy crops. This distributed model of energy generation reduces grid dependence and exposure to electricity price volatility (ICAME, 2021).

Key bioenergy applications in the commercial sector include biomass boilers for heating, biogas for cooking, combined heat and power systems, and biofuel generators. Commercial spaces with access to forestry, food or agricultural waste streams can produce bioenergy at low cost. However, even those without internal waste resources can utilize external biomass supply chains or bioenergy utilities.

The high and steady thermal loads of commercial buildings make them ideal candidates for adoption of bioenergy heating systems. With rising energy costs and emissions regulations, bioenergy is becoming an attractive option for reducing energy expenses while meeting sustainability goals (Carbon Trust, 2021).

Industrial Use

Industrial facilities like manufacturing plants, refineries, and paper mills require significant amounts of process heat and electricity. Bioenergy can provide combined heat and power (CHP) to meet these energy demands in a renewable, sustainable way. CHP systems generate electricity while also capturing heat that would otherwise be wasted. This heat can then be used for process heating, space heating, cooling, and other industrial applications [1].

According to the World Bioenergy Association, the industrial use of bioenergy has enabled many companies and governments to rapidly decarbonize their operations [2]. Bioenergy can replace fossil fuel use for process heating in cement, steel, pharmaceutical, and chemical production. It can also provide a renewable alternative to power boilers, kilns, furnaces, and driers across various industries.

In addition to CHP, biofuels like ethanol, biodiesel, and biomethane can displace fossil fuel use for electricity, steam, and process heat generation. Tree residues, forest industry by-products, and agricultural wastes offer sustainable feedstocks for bioenergy production [3].

Agricultural Use

Agriculture uses around 30% of total energy consumption globally, and bioenergy has emerged as a promising renewable energy source for farms and rural communities [1]. On-farm bioenergy can be derived from agricultural residues like straw and manure, as well as dedicated non-food energy crops. These biomass sources can provide heat, electricity and transportation fuels to meet a variety of agricultural needs.

Some common on-farm uses of bioenergy include [2]:

  • Heating livestock buildings
  • Heating greenhouses
  • Drying crops
  • Running farm machinery

Converting agricultural biomass to energy on-site reduces dependence on fossil fuels, provides income diversification for farmers, and creates a distributed and decentralized energy system. With the right policies and incentives, bioenergy from the farm sector can continue expanding sustainably.


Bioenergy provides many key benefits when compared to fossil fuels. According to Aris Bioenergy, some of the main advantages of using bioenergy include that it is renewable, carbon neutral, provides energy independence and security, supports rural communities, and creates jobs https://www.arisbioenergy.com/what-is-bioenergy-and-advantages-of-bioenergy/. Bioenergy is renewable and sustainable because the biomass sources used, like crops and agricultural residues, can be replanted and regrown continuously. This differs from fossil fuels like coal and oil that take hundreds of millions of years to form and are finite resources.

Bioenergy is also largely carbon neutral because the carbon released when the biomass is converted to energy is reabsorbed by future crops as they grow, maintaining a closed carbon cycle. The carbon neutrality of bioenergy can help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and global warming when displacing the use of fossil fuels. Additionally, domestically-produced bioenergy in one country provides energy independence and security by relying on local feedstock sources instead of imported fossil fuels.

Lastly, the production and processing of biomass for bioenergy supports rural communities and creates green jobs in agriculture, transportation, and conversion facility operation according to Gray Group International https://www.graygroupintl.com/blog/bioenergy. Overall, bioenergy provides renewable, carbon neutral energy while also supporting local economies and energy independence when utilized.


In summary, the 3 primary ways bioenergy is used are for heat production, electricity generation, and transportation fuels.

Heat production from bioenergy involves burning biomass directly for heating homes, commercial buildings, and industrial processes. Using biomass for heat is an efficient use of the resource.

Electricity generation from bioenergy converts biomass into electric power through various technologies like combustion, gasification, anaerobic digestion and more. Bioenergy is considered a renewable and clean energy source for generating electricity.

Biofuels produced from biomass like ethanol, biodiesel and biogas can be used for transportation in vehicles. Biofuels help reduce reliance on fossil fuels for powering cars, trucks, buses and other modes of transportation.

Key takeaways are that bioenergy utilizes organic matter in the form of biomass from plants and waste streams to produce renewable energy. The 3 main applications are heat, power and transportation fuel. Using bioenergy provides environmental benefits compared to fossil fuels. There is great potential to further expand production and use of bioenergy globally.

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