What Is The Outlook For Bioenergy?

What is the outlook for bioenergy?

Bioenergy is renewable energy made from organic materials known as biomass. It is derived from organic matter such as plants, agricultural waste, and municipal waste. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, bioenergy is defined as “energy for industrial or commercial use that is derived from biological sources.”

Bioenergy is considered a form of renewable energy because the organic materials it utilizes can be replenished naturally. It offers a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels and supports energy independence and security. Bioenergy also provides environmental benefits through reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels.

The development of bioenergy is important to meet the world’s growing energy demands through clean, renewable sources. It also supports economic development, especially in rural communities where biomass feedstocks are plentiful. Realizing the full potential of bioenergy will require continued research, investment, and supportive policies.

Current State of Bioenergy

Bioenergy currently accounts for a relatively small but growing share of the total global energy mix. According to a report by Straits Research, bioenergy accounted for around 5% of primary energy consumption globally in 2019 (Straits Research). However, the share of bioenergy is rising, driven by increasing policy support and technology improvements. The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that modern renewable energy, including bioenergy, will become the largest source of total final energy consumption by 2030 under its Sustainable Development Scenario (IEA). Within the bioenergy sector, solid biomass like wood pellets currently dominates, followed by biofuels for transport. However, other forms like biogas are also gaining ground and have strong growth potential moving forward.

Benefits of Bioenergy

Bioenergy has several key benefits that make it an attractive energy source. First, bioenergy can be carbon neutral or even carbon negative if done correctly. Bioenergy comes from organic matter such as plants and waste biomass. When these feedstocks are processed into energy, they release carbon that was previously captured and sequestered from the atmosphere by the plants during photosynthesis. This makes bioenergy a renewable resource. Because bioenergy releases carbon that was already part of the carbon cycle, it does not increase the net amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Additionally, growing the biomass feedstocks for bioenergy absorbs carbon dioxide. This makes bioenergy a carbon neutral or even carbon negative energy source.

Second, bioenergy helps utilize waste and reduce pollution. Bioenergy feedstocks can come from agricultural residues, forest products, and even municipal solid waste. Using these waste streams for energy helps avoid methane emissions from landfills and reduces the need for waste disposal. Bioenergy production gives these wastes a productive use rather than letting them emit greenhouse gases or take up space in landfills.

Third, bioenergy supports energy independence and security. Bioenergy utilizes domestic renewable resources, reducing reliance on imported fossil fuels. Local or domestic production of bioenergy creates jobs and economic opportunities in rural communities. Ramping up bioenergy production can help nations achieve energy self-sufficiency and insulate themselves from global energy market volatility.

Challenges Facing Bioenergy

Despite its benefits, bioenergy faces some key challenges to widespread adoption. According to Chung (2013) [1], the high costs of technologies and feedstocks have hindered progress. Competing land use demands for food crops, forests and biofuel production create land use conflicts between stakeholders [2]. Biomass combustion can also generate harmful air pollution if not properly controlled according to clean air standards, releasing sulfur dioxides, particulates and nitrogen oxides [3].

Air pollution control costs have added to high upfront capital costs of many bioenergy projects. Land use concerns have complicated attempts to scale up bioenergy, also considering economic and environmental impacts. With proper planning and management though, sustainability certification and technology advances can help address downsides of bioenergy and unlock its full potential as a renewable energy source.

[1] https://www.eubia.org/cms/wiki-biomass/biomass-resources/challenges-related-to-biomass

[2] https://eco.gov.capital/what-are-the-challenges-and-barriers-to-widespread-adoption-of-biomass-and-bioenergy

[3] https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fenrg.2013.00004

Bioenergy Technologies

There are several types of technologies used to produce bioenergy from biomass sources:

  • Biomass – This refers to plant materials and animal waste that can be used to generate energy. Sources of biomass include trees, grasses, agricultural residues, and municipal solid waste. Biomass can be directly combusted to produce heat or converted into fuels like ethanol and biodiesel (1).
  • Biogas – Biogas is generated from the anaerobic digestion of organic matter like manure, sewage, and crop residues. The biogas is composed mainly of methane and carbon dioxide and can be used to generate electricity and heat (2).
  • Biofuels – Biofuels are liquid fuels derived from biomass feedstocks like corn, sugarcane, vegetable oils etc. Major types are ethanol and biodiesel which can replace gasoline and diesel in vehicles (1).

Advanced biofuels produced from non-food biomass like crop residues, woody biomass and algae are also being researched and developed (2).


(1) https://www.montclair.edu/clean-energy-sustainability-analytics/resources/clean-energy-information/bioenergy/

(2) https://learnbioenergy.org/types-of-biofuels

Policy Support for Bioenergy

Governments around the world have implemented various policies to support the development of bioenergy. These policies include subsidies, mandates, and tax incentives.

Many countries provide subsidies in the form of direct payments, grants, or loan guarantees to bioenergy producers to help offset capital costs and encourage investment. For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers grants and loan guarantees for bioenergy facilities through programs like the Biorefinery and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program (https://www.cbd.int/doc/case-studies/inc/cs-inc-oecd-biofuelpolicies2008.pdf).

Mandates are another common policy used to create demand for bioenergy. The most prominent examples are blending mandates that require a certain percentage of transportation fuels to come from renewable sources like biofuels. The Renewable Fuel Standard in the U.S. and the Renewable Energy Directive in the E.U. have spurred biofuel production through mandated volumes (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306261912007040).

Some countries also provide tax incentives like credits, deductions, or exemptions to lower the tax burden on bioenergy producers and users. The biodiesel tax credit in the U.S. provides a $1 per gallon production credit for biodiesel that meets ASTM quality standards.

Private Sector Investment

The private sector, including major oil and gas companies, have been increasing investments into bioenergy in recent years. Companies like Shell, BP and TotalEnergies have pledged to substantially increase spending on renewable energy, including bioenergy, as part of their energy transition plans. For example, TotalEnergies aims to increase its renewable energy and bioenergy capacity to 100 GW by 2030.

These oil majors are uniquely positioned to scale up bioenergy with their expertise and resources. They can leverage existing assets and supply chains in converting biofeedstocks into biofuels and bioproducts (Investing in the Transition is Investing in Oil and Gas). Shell is investing billions into a new biofuels plant in Singapore to produce 800,000 tons of sustainable aviation fuel per year.

While investments are ramping up, there is still pressure on companies to increase transparency around the impacts and benefits of their renewable energy spending (Undisclosed investment). Overall, the growth in corporate commitments provides optimism for the future scaling of bioenergy.

International Outlook

The growth potential for bioenergy in developing countries is significant. Many developing nations are looking to expand their domestic energy production and reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels. Bioenergy offers a locally-sourced, renewable option to help meet growing energy demand. Countries such as Brazil, China, India, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia all have favorable conditions for bioenergy feedstock production and are investing in bioenergy technologies. According to Fortune Business Insights, the Asia Pacific region is expected to witness the fastest growth in the global bioenergy market, expanding at a CAGR of 8.0% from 2021 to 2028 [1]. Key factors driving growth in the region include large populations, rapid economic development and industrialization, and strong policy support. Many countries have set targets for renewables and biofuels within their energy mix. With abundant land and agricultural resources, developing countries are poised to ramp up domestic bioenergy production to meet rising energy needs in a sustainable manner.

Future Trends and Innovations

Many advanced biofuels are still in early development stages but show promise for the future. For example, researchers at DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a process to convert lignin, a major component of woody biomass that is seen as waste, into high-octane gasoline blendstocks
(DOE). Automation and microbial engineering are also key areas of innovation. Scientists have engineered microbes like E. coli to produce biodiesel more efficiently
(DOE). Automated biorefineries could lower costs and improve yield monitoring in the future
(BioEnergy Innovations Global). Overall, advanced biofuels, microbial engineering, and automation will shape the future landscape of bioenergy.


In summary, the outlook for bioenergy is promising yet faces ongoing challenges. Key takeaways include:

  • Bioenergy has major benefits like reduced greenhouse gas emissions, energy independence and security, and economic development.
  • However, concerns remain around land use changes, food security, biodiversity impacts, and variability in energy crop yields.
  • Advanced biofuels and next-generation technologies are overcoming some limitations of traditional biofuels.
  • Strong policy support and private investment will be essential to realizing the full potential of bioenergy.
  • With innovation and responsible practices, bioenergy can play a major role in a sustainable energy future.

While questions persist, bioenergy remains a versatile renewable energy source with significant room for growth. Ongoing research, development, and policy evolution will shape the outlook going forward.

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