Bioenergy to play prominent global role in low-carbon economy, IEA predicts

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The International Energy Agency (IEA) has used one of its modelling scenarios to predict that bioenergy will provide nearly 17% of final global energy demand in 2060, compared with 4.5% in 2015.

In its latest Technology Roadmap, entitled ‘Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy’, the IEA provides the technology milestones and policy actions needed to unlock the potential of bioenergy in line with a long-term low-carbon and sustainable global energy mix.

According to the IEA, bioenergy has an essential and major role to play in a low-carbon energy system. For instance, modern bioenergy in final global energy consumption should increase four-fold by 2060 in the IEA's 2°C scenario (2DS), which seeks to limit global average temperatures from rising more than 2°C by 2100 to avoid some of the worst effects of climate change.

It plays a particularly important role in the transport sector where it helps to decarbonise long-haul transport (aviation, marine and long-haul road freight), with a ten-fold increase in final energy demand from today’s 3 EJ to nearly 30 EJ, the IEA stated.

Bioenergy is responsible for nearly 20% of the additional carbon savings needed in the 2DS compared to an emissions trajectory based on meeting existing and announced policies. However, the current rate of bioenergy deployment is well below these 2DS levels, the IEA maintained.

Liquid fuels

Separately, in the transport sector, biofuel consumption must triple by 2030, with two-thirds of that coming from advanced biofuels. That means scaling up current advanced biofuels production by at least 50 times to keep pace with the 2DS requirements by 2030. In scenarios with more ambitious carbon reduction objectives, such as the IEA’s Beyond 2 Degree Scenario (B2DS), bioenergy linked to carbon capture and storage also becomes necessary, the agency stated.

The IEA’s Technology Roadmap shows how that gap can be bridged, and highlights various areas where urgent action is needed, such as accelerating the deployment of a range of mature bioenergy solutions, which can immediately deliver multiple benefits, and enabling the deployment of the new technologies which are needed in a future low carbon energy system. (In January, the IEA also published a How2Guide for Bioenergy, jointly developed with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), as a toolbox that can be used for both planning and implementing new bioenergy strategies, or to improve existing ones.)

The roadmap also points out the need for a five-fold increase in sustainable bioenergy feedstock supply, much of which can be obtained from mobilising the potential of wastes and residues.

Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels (LSB) maintained that it welcomed the positive outlook of the IEA on the need of advanced biofuels to secure transport decarbonisation. LSB also welcomed the positive outcome of the ITRE committee of the European Parliament.

LSB is a coalition of 12 leading sustainable advanced biofuels producers and technology developers.

Leaders of Sustainable Biofuels (LSB) adheres to the findings of IEA: in the transport sector, biofuel consumption must triple by 2030 (globally), with two-thirds of that coming from advanced biofuels, in order to reach climate commitments made in Paris. This means scaling up current advanced biofuels production significantly, the LSB stated.

Low-carbon energy

An appropriate approach to sustainability governance is needed, which prevents bad-practice while encouraging continuous improvement and innovation. And it also calls for enhancing international cooperation, building technical and institutional capacity, and enabling higher investments to deliver bioenergy’s role in a future low-carbon energy system.  

In a statement, the IEA said: “An expanded role for bioenergy is an essential component of a low-carbon energy future. A major international effort is urgently required to mobilise this valuable resource.”

This story was Liz Gyekye, editor of Bioenergy Insight.