The Fourth IRENA Policy Talk 2022: Sustainable Bioenergy for the Energy Transition

Bioenergy makes up the largest share of renewable energy use today, accounting for around 9% of the world’s total primary energy supply. More than half of bioenergy is consumed for cooking and heating buildings in the traditional and inefficient way. Modern uses of bioenergy include biomass and biogas/biomethane for industrial heat, power generation, and liquid biofuels road transport. However, they only contribute small shares of the final energy consumption of end uses: 7% of heating for buildings and industry and 3% of transport fuels. 

Modern bioenergy has a major role to play in the energy transition. IRENA’s 1.5°C scenario suggest that it will make up a quarter of the total primary energy supply or 17% of final energy demand by 2050. Bioenergy will need to be scaled up to provide heat for both industrial processes and buildings, as well as fuels for transport. It will also be needed as feedstock in the petrochemical industry to produce chemicals and plastics. Combined with carbon capture and storage technologies in the power sector and some industrial sectors, bioenergy can deliver the negative emissions needed to achieve the net-zero emission goal.

Various barriers impede the scale up of bioenergy, including the lack of policy certainty, low level of technology readiness (for example, biofuels for aviation or biomass for the chemical industry), high cost of bioenergy compared to fossil fuels, as well as weak supply chains. Comprehensive policy measures are needed to address these barriers and scale up the deployment. Energy policy needs to closely interact with other sectoral policies such as agriculture, forest and waste management.

If the supply chain is not managed properly, bioenergy can have sustainability risks linked to land use (including competition with food supply), air pollution, reduced water and soil quality, and biodiversity loss. Ensuring the sustainability of bioenergy deployment is the most fundamental element of bioenergy policymaking. Sustainability governance, regulations and certification schemes, cross-sectoral coordination and other measures can help minimise potential impacts on environmental, economic, and social aspects.

IRENA has published the Bioenergy for the Energy Transition: Ensuring Sustainability and Overcoming Barriers report. This study analyses the current status and barriers to the deployment of bioenergy in power generation, heating, transport, and industry. It highlights the necessity of prioritised use of bioenergy in specific applications given the finite feedstock and examines policies and best practices to address barriers. This study also examines possible sustainability risks related to bioenergy supply chains and proposes a policy framework to ensure sustainability.

The key findings of this report were presented by IRENA in the 4th Policy Talks 2022.

The concept note with agenda is available here.

More information on the speakers can be found here

The presentation can be found here.