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Demand for Biomass Likely to Exceed Sustainable Supply, Warns New Report

(Credit: Energy Transitions Commission)

While bioresources are in principle renewable, not all forms of biomass use are beneficial from an environmental perspective — that is, not all biomass is “good” biomass, concludes a new report from the Energy Transitions Commission.

To be sustainable, biomass production should have low lifecycle GHG emissions. Its production should take into account the “opportunity cost” related to carbon that could be sequestered without intervention, and must not:

  • compete with use of land for food production;
  • trigger any land use change that could release carbon stocks into the atmosphere (especially deforestation);
  • negatively impact biodiversity.

The report suggests that biomass should be prioritized for use in a handful of sectors where there is no alternative. Biomass is best used for materials — including as timber, pulp and paper and other wood products or as a bio-feedstock for the plastics industry — rather than as an energy source.

This is because potential demands for bio resources far exceed sustainable supply. Left unchecked, these trends would heighten the risks of unsustainable management of the bio resource, including deforestation, biodiversity loss and soil depletion. The report reveals that current policies often fail to consider claims on bioresources holistically, thus incentivizing uses in sectors where alternatives exist and jeopardizing a sustainable management of the resource.

Industry and policymakers should therefore limit the use of bioresources in applications where cheaper alternatives exist or are within reach. These include road transport, bulk power generation without CCS, residential heating and shipping.

The report goes on to state that few uses in the form of energy stand the test of resource efficiency and expected long term cost-competitiveness. Aviation is one key exception where bioresources can play a major role given low scale and technological readiness of alternatives.

Alternative zero-carbon solutions such as clean electrification and hydrogen should be deployed ASAP to lessen the need for bio-energy, the report concludes, saying, “The good news is that we have the technology and capital to get to a clean energy future without the expanded use of biomass.”

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