New Report Sheds Light on the Potential of Biomass

Biomass appears poised for big things in coming decades. According to a recent report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), biomass could account for as much as 60 percent of the global renewable energy mix by the year 2030, providing up to 20 percent of the world’s electricity needs.

IRENA is an organization located in the United Arab Emirates that was launched in 2011 and soon after established REmap 2030. The intent of REmap 2030 is to plot the course for a doubling of global renewable energy share by the year 2030.

In the report titled Global Bioenergy Supply and Demand Projections for the Year 2030, IRENA lays out the case in favor of specific biomass technologies it says will help to significantly limit greenhouse gas emissions to “two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” by the year 2100.

The key here is in the use of “sustainably sourced” resources. According to suggestions within the report, 40 percent of biomass supply would originate from “agricultural residues and waste.” Energy crops and forest products would account for the remaining supply potential.

Arguments against the use of biomass range from its emission of methane and CO2 to its high cost, which opponents say is not as affordable or environmentally sound as other methods of alternative power generation. Others say the growth of energy crops takes up valuable agricultural real estate that could be put to use producing consumable crops and may result in driving up the cost of food. Despite these assertions, there are many who say biomass is a far better alternative to traditional coal burning.

Scott Sklar, founder and president of The Stella Group and Chair of the Steering Committee of the Sustainable Energy Coalition, believes a ramped-up pursuit of biomass as a renewable energy source is a logical solution to dealing with issues created by waste biomass.

“Waste biomass causes forest fires,” Sklar said. “It turns to methane, it gets into landfills and some is even getting into our municipal water systems. We have many technologies to dispose of it cleanly, meeting the most intense environmental standards. Why wouldn’t we want to do it since it’s a renewable resource?”

Sklar sees biomass playing an integral role in the pursuit of a well-rounded global renewable energy portfolio, calling it “an invaluable tool in the arsenal” and underlining that its incorporation into the renewable energy mix will help achieve a maximization of results. “If you do it that way, you don’t strain the responsible use of any one technology,” Sklar said. “The more options you have for consumers and rate payers, the better.”

In today’s renewable energy mix, biomass is used primarily for cooking and heating in both commercial and residential buildings sectors, to a tune of 53 exajoules in 2010. But in the roadmap developed by IRENA, a more aggressive exploration of the full potential of biomass as an energy source could serve to more than double this output.

With the largest supply potential of biomass presently existing in Europe and Asia, IRENA suggests one of the chief challenges will be in establishing national and international partnerships and policies to ensure smooth movement of resources across the use and supply chain.

The full IRENA report can be downloaded here.

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Vince Font is a freelance journalist specializing in the fields of renewable energy, high tech, travel, and entertainment. Read his blog at or follow him on Twitter @vincefont.

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