What do YOU think of when you hear the term Bioenergy?
Asking people across Europe what bioenergy is often raises more questions than it solves – and this is understandable!
The bioenergy industry and its multifaceted value-chain encompasses a wide range of products, technologies and processes. In fact, bioenergy is a term that can have different meanings for describing various feedstock and uses.
Woody biomass, agricultural biomass, energy crops, biofuels, bioheat, biopower, solid biomass, bioliquids and biogas, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage are all different subcategories of the bioenergy sector.
This page will guide you through the key facts, main concepts and applications of bioenergy.
Key Facts and Figures
Today, bioenergy represents the largest renewable energy source in the EU.
Bioenergy is a versatile and flexible energy type
Bioenergy is the only renewable energy source (RES) that can provide for the three main sources of energy needed in both private households and industry.
Bioenergy is mainly produced from local biomass and it generates a considerable economic growth and jobs!
57,4% of the EU’s renewable energy mix is bioenergy
Only around 4% of bioenergy is imported from outside of the EU
Bioenergy is a versatile and flexible energy source. It is the only renewable energy source that can provide for the three main sectors of energy needed in both private households and industry: heating, power generation and transport.
These three sectors are still heavily reliant on fossil fuels. According to the latest EUanalysis, bioenergy has the potential to significantly increase within the limits of a sustainably available biomass.
Biomass for heating
Of all bioenergy consumed, 74,5% is used for heating. Bioheat currently offers a reliable and affordable solution to decarbonising domestic and district heating, as well as the industry. Renewables are often associated with power generation and transport. But the heating and cooling sector remains underrepresented, showing great room for improvement. Heating and cooling constitute for about 50% of total EU-27 energy consumption, of which 78% is powered by fossil fuels.
Renewables have become a key priority in EU policies, especially concerning the construction sector, which is essential for reaching the EU’s decarbonisation objectives. Bioenergy is currently the leading renewable in heating and cooling (85%).
Biomass for power generation
In 2021, bioenergy covered 5,9% of the total gross electricity generation in the EU and represents about 15% of total renewable electricity.
As intermittency remains an issue in the near future, biomass will continue to play a role as the back-up, dispatchable energy source. Contrary to what is said or written about bioenergy, statistics show that in the overall EU-27 power energy mix, a majority of biomass electricity being generated (74%) comes from combined heat and power plants, also known as cogeneration or combined heat and power plants (CHP), rather than from plants producing only power.
The situation is the total opposite of traditional power generation from conventional thermal sources. CHP plants represent only 29%. This demonstrates that bioenergy is actually an effective means for promoting and further developing the use of modern and efficient CHP in Europe.
Biofuels for transport
The transport sector has always been the most challenging sector for renewables market penetration, representing 6% of EU-27 total energy consumption in 2020. Despite the popularity of electric vehicles, biofuels are indisputably the primary source of renewable energy used in the transport sector, representing 90% of total renewable energies and steadily increasing.
Bioenergy comes in all shapes and sizes. More than any other renewable energy, bioenergy covers a wide range of feedstocks and conversion technologies.
Organic materials such as plants, algae and organic wastes can be valuable fuels as soon as technology makes it possible to efficiently extract all of their energy potential. We refer to biomass when describing these usable feedstocks.
Biomass currently being used in Europe includes wood from forests, agricultural crops and residues, by-products of the wood and agricultural industries, herbaceous and woody energy crops, and municipal organic waste and manure. Future potential lies with algae and marine biomass.
Solid bioenergy feedstock
More than 2/3 of biomass consumed in Europe consists of solid biomass, which is forestry residue and, to a limited extent, agricultural by-products. The most important feedstock is woody biomass, which accounts for nearly 70%, while agricultural and waste biomass represent approximately 15% each.
Agricultural biomass is expected to at least quintuple, as greater focus on the circular bioeconomy increases material utilisation and the valorisation of residues.
Waste-to-energy is the 4th most important category of bioenergy feedstock being used in Europe. In EU 2050 policy scenarios, the amount of waste biomass is expected to at least double.
Biogas represents 10% of gross inland energy consumption of biomass. Biogas is a versatile renewable fuel that can be used to produce heat or electricity. When upgraded to biomethane, it can also be injected into the existing gas grid or used as a transport fuel. Sustainable biogas production also reduces methane emissions from manure and landfilling, and limits dependency on mineral-based fertilisers while increasing material efficiency.
In Europe, 63% of the biogas has been produced by plants running on agricultural by-products. This dominant proportion illustrates the strong interactions between agriculture and biogas production. Landfill accounts for 15% of the biogas production, followed by sewage (7%).
Biofuels represent 13% of gross inland energy consumption of biomass. Biofuel comes in the form of bioethanol and biodiesel. Bioethanol is mainly produced from grains and sugar beet derivatives. Biodiesel’s most common feedstock remains rapeseed oil, but the use of another feedstock may vary based on local and national production.
In 2020, nearly 70% of the bioenergy consumed in Europe was sourced from forests. Among all biomass materials, wood has always been the most popular source of energy in Europe. Forests are also a key habitat for biodiversity and act as a carbon sink.
Biomass and the state of EU forests
In 2020, forests and other wooded land represented nearly half (45%) of the EU’s total land area. Between 2010 and 2020, the EU had an average annual increase of 262.000 ha. In addition to the increased forest area, forest density has also been rising in Europe. In 1990, the average forest density was 133 m3/ha, and by 2020 that number had increased by more than 30% to 173 m3/ha.
Bioenergy can play a major role in combatting forest degradation, since extra sources of income for forest owners, municipalities and governments allow them to sustainably manage their forests in the long run.
Sustainable sourcing of Biomass
Bioenergy providers in Europe do not just use any type of wood indiscriminately. Both for economic and environmental reasons, woody biomass is sourced from by-products of forest management operations and of the wood industry like sawmills.
Historically, the European bioenergy sector has developed to work in synergy with other wood-based industries in order to give value to non-mobilised and/or low-value biomass such as sawdust, mill residue, thinnings, low-quality wood, tops and limbs. Bioenergy generators do not use high-quality timber, because using lumber would make the price of energy uncompetitive for end consumers.
Sustainable forest management is key to developing resilient, multifunctional forests. This intergrated approach helps to reduce both forest vulnerability and the risk of disasters such as forest fires.
Biomass and benefits for the forest and the forestry sector
Discussing sustainable woody bioenergy is tricky because it depends on many variables and assumptions. Simple estimates of forest biomass potential for energy use can be derived from the current size of forests, forest removal and the size of the forest bioenergy sector in any given country.
Biomass Processing & Technologies
Bioenergy is one of the most reliable forms of clean energy being adopted by companies, municipalities and households all across Europe today. New technologies and processes are contantly being developed.
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage
Carbon dioxide removal technologies like Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) are now reaching maturity. They result in negative emissions by capturing CO2 after combustion and energy delivery, and permanently storing such biogenic carbon. To generate energy, BECCS uses sustainably harvested biomass residues as well as waste and by-products from forest- and agro-industries.
The carbon dioxide is turned into a liquid which can be pumped into bedrock where it is mineralised over time. This is a safe and permanent way to store CO2.
This innovative and unique technology makes it possible to avoid that any of the CO2 that was previously absorbed by plants and trees through photosynthesis is being re-released into the atmosphere. Therefore, BECCS is a method to create negative emissions.
Europe could become a world leader in BECCS technologies, expanding the scope of its existing leadership in many bioenergy fields already.
Carbon Dioxide Removal
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) involves capturing atmospheric CO2, and then storing it either temporarily or permanently. This is essential in order to reach our climate targets: we not only need to reduce our current emissions, but also remove old emissions from the atmosphere.
CDR and the sustainable management of global carbon cycles will become the major focus of climate action worldwide.
Permanent carbon removal combined with bioenergy creates BECCS: Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage.
You want to know where bioenergy comes from, how it works and why it is essential for a green future in under 6 minutes? In our video series Bioenergy explained you’ll find the answers.
About the campaign
The European Bioenergy Day campaign is powered by Bioenergy Europe and relayed across Europe by both national and international partners supporting the view that bioenergy is more than a renewable energy source, it is also a reliable path that will lead Europe to achieve its renewable energy transition.
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