Report: Biomass has great global potential

By Anna Austin | November 28, 2011

One-fifth of the world’s energy demands could be met with biomass without damaging food production, according to a new report released by the U.K. Energy Research Centre.

“Energy from Biomass: the Size of the Global Resource” was generated by the UKERC’s Technology and Policy Assessment Advisory Group, which is comprised of senior energy experts from government, academia and the private sector.  

Using the TVA research approach, the group reviewed more than 90 global studies, and came to the conclusion that the main reason scientists disagree on the role biomass could potentially play in the future energy system is that they make different assumptions about population, diet and land use.

The TVA research approach employs a range of techniques referred to as evidence-based policy and practice, including the practice of systematic reviews. It aspires to provide more robust evidence for policymakers and practitioners, avoids duplication of research, encourages higher research standards and identifies research gaps, according to the UKERC. 

One of the main findings of the report is that while biomass energy may be obtained from a diverse range of sources, by far the largest potential relates to energy crops. In agreement with previous studies, the report says that land availability is the most important factor influencing the contribution energy crops could make.

All sources of potential biomass are important, however. “If we make the best use of agricultural residues, energy crops and waste materials, then getting one-fifth of current global energy supply from biomass is a reasonable ambition,” said Raphael Slade, the report’s lead author. “The main mistake is to think of this as all or nothing. There’s plenty of scope for experimentation to make sure we get it right.”

The report provides a detailed discussion of previous studies’ common assumptions for high, medium and low biomass potential estimates, which range from 8 to 600 exajoules, as well as factors affecting those assumptions. Besides land availability, they include productivity of the biomass grown on the land, and competition for alternate uses of the land, biomass and the waste materials derived from the biomass.

A copy of the full report can be accessed here.