Bioenergy is the “sleeping giant” of renewables, according to a new report from the Biofuture Platform, a new 20-country effort to realize the sustainable use of renewable biomass. Both globally and domestically, bioenergy makes up roughly half of all renewable consumption, and includes biofuels, biomass power, and waste-to-energy technologies (though wind and solar power’s market share are growing quickly).  In recognition of the important, but often overlooked role that bioenergy will need to play in mitigating climate change in multiple sectors, the Biofuture Platform was created, a government-led, stakeholder initiative to support the development of a sustainable, low carbon bioeconomy. 

The Biofuture Platform is an effort of nearly two-dozen countries (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, India, Indonesia, Italy, Morocco, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Philippines, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay) to increase the use of sustainable biomass as a feedstock for energy, chemicals, and materials, as they are recognized as critical to meeting internationally agreed-upon climate targets.

Most recently, the group released a report at a side event at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24). The report, Creating the Biofuture: A Report on the State of the Low Carbon Bioeconomy, discusses the complementary role biomass should play in the energy transition, and necessary policy levers to increase the use of biomass as a low-carbon alternative in fuels, chemicals, and products.

The report is in line with findings from the International Energy Agency, the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change about the important role biomass will play in hard-to-decarbonize sectors, such as transport, chemicals, heating, and cooling. According to the report, several barriers exist to greater utilization of biofuels, biomass power, as well as biobased chemicals and projects.  They include:

Lack of financial resources for R&D, deployment, and commercialization.  In general, the financial sector sees the bioeconomy as a high-risk venture.
Lack of competition in established petroleum markets.  Petroleum markets, such as those for fuels and chemicals, are well established and mature industries. Often, biobased alternatives cannot compete on a cost basis alone.
Uncoordinated policies. The bioeconomy spans the energy, natural resources, and agriculture sectors, and policies are siloed and often create unintended conflicts between sectors.
Insufficient and/or expensive supply chains of sustainably-sourced biomass feedstocks.

While these challenges are steep, they are not insurmountable.  Through international coordination, policies could be developed to spur the development of markets and attract capital to develop sustainable supply chains. According to Kimmo Tiilikainen, Minister of Environment, Energy and Housing of Finland, “Bioenergy is a great way of balancing variable electricity production, mainly wind and solar … However, bioenergy’s role in the heating and transport sectors is even more important … Of course, electrifying the transport sector is a major trend, but with biofuels, we can achieve CO2 reductions quickly and with the current transport fleet.”

 

 

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