Report provides global overview of bioenergy, biofuel development

By Erin Voegele | June 05, 2014

A new report published by Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21) provides a global overview of advances in renewable energy development, including development related to bioenergy, ethanol and other types of biofuels. The analysis is titled the “Renewables 2014 Global Status Report.”

Regarding overall renewable energy development, the report determined renewable electricity capacity reached a new record level last year, increasing by 8 percent and accounting for 56 percent of net additions to global power capacity. Renewable energy sources now meet nearly one-fifth of global energy consumption. In addition, 95 emerging economies now nurture renewable energy growth through supportive polices, up from only 15 countries in 2005.

According to the report, 88 GW of power capacity from biomass was in place globally at the close of 2013, up from 83 GW the prior year. In 2004, less than 36 GW of biomass energy capacity was in existence. Biomass was used to generate an estimated 405 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy in 2103, up from 350 TWh in 2012. In 2004, only 227 TWh of energy was generated from biobased fuels.

The report indicates that biomass demand continued to grow steadily in the heat, power and transportation sectors last year. “Total primary energy consumption of biomass reached approximately 57 exajoules (EJ) in 2013, of which almost 60 percent was traditional biomass, and the remainder was modern bioenergy (solid, gaseous, and liquid fuels),” said authors in the report.

Heating accounted for the majority of biomass use last year. According to the report, modern biomass heating capacity increased about 1 percent, reaching 296 GW of thermal energy. With regard to pellets, the report notes that demand for modern biomass is driving increased international trade in solid biofuels. Overall, the European Union imported about 6.4 million metric tons of pellets last year, with 75 percent of imports coming from North America. In 2012, only 55 percent of European pellet imports came from North America.

According to the report, about 60 percent of total biomass used for energy purposes is traditional biomass, including fuel wood, crop residues and animal dung that are used developing countries for cooking, heat and some lighting. The remaining 40 percent is used in modern bioenergy applications. This modern biomass share includes approximately 13 EJ in thermal applications, 5 EJ converting to produce biofuels, and approximately 5 EJ to generate electricity.

The U.S. added an estimated 0.8 GW of biopower capacity last year, reaching 15.8 GW by the end of the year. Solid biomass accounted for two-thirds of total biobased fuel, with the remainder coming from landfill gas, organic municipal solid waste and other wastes.

The European Union has about 34.5 GW of biopower capacity, and biopower accounted for 5 percent of new capacity last year. Electricity generated from biomass, however, increased by 7 percent, reaching 79 TWh.

Global biogas power generation reached 7.5 GW of capacity in 2012, with more than 13,800 biogas power plants in operation by the end of the year. Germany currently dominates that market.

According to the report, more fossil fuel-fired power plants are enabling co-firing with either solid biomass or biogas. In 2013, about 230 existing commercial coal- and natural gas-fired combined-heat-and-power (CHP) plants had been converted, mostly in Europe and the U.S.

With regard to thermal applications, Europe remains the world largest consumer of bioheat, with a 5.4 percent increase in 2012. In 2013, Germany generated nearly 116.6 TWh of heat from biomass, up from 112.6 TWh in 2012. In Sweden, bioenergy accounted for more than half of all space heating in the housing and commercial sectors last year, through both boilers and district heating systems. An addition 55 million wood-burning stoves, cookers and fireplaces are also in operation. A large portion of Europe’s bioheat is produced for district heating networks, with a 12.6 percent increase in sales to that sector in 2012. The use of biomass in small appliances has also increased. In 2013, Europe had approximately 8 million small-scale biomass boilers, with annual sales of approximately 300,000 units.

The report also addresses biofuels, noting that 87.2 billion liters of ethanol was produced for transportation fuel last year, up from 82.6 billion liters in 2012. Only 28.5 billion liters was produced in 2004. Biodiesel production has also increased, reaching 236.3 billion liters in 2013, up from 23.6 billion liters in 2014. In 2004, only 2.4 billion liters were produced.

The U.S. tops the list of countries that made investments in ethanol and biodiesel last year. Other tops countries for ethanol production include Brazil, China, Canada and France. Top countries for biodiesel include Germany, Brazil, Argentina and France.

Overall, liquid biofuels met about 2.3 percent of global transport fuel demand last year. While ethanol production rebounded following two years of decline, the report states that global investment in new biofuel plant capacity continued its decline from the 2007 peak. Several new advanced biofuel facilities, however, were commissioned during the year.