Recent literature shows that the technical potential of biomass for energy may be as large as 500 EJ/yr by 2050. However, large uncertainty exists about important factors such as market and policy conditions that affect this potential.The assessment suggests potential deployment levels by 2050 in the range of 100 to 300 EJ/yr. Realizing this potential represents a major challenge but would make a substantial contribution to the world’s primary energy demand in 2050—roughly equal to the equivalent heat content of today’s worldwide biomass extraction in agriculture and forestry. The upcoming IEA “Technology Roadmap on Bioenergy: Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy” due for publication November 27, 2017 identifies approximately 145 EJ of biomass as a “reasonable and realistic” sustainable global potential for 2050. This potential is “iLUC-free” and very low-carbon, consisting mainly of residues and wastes, forest co-products, and biomass from marginal and degraded land. Fritsche et al. (2017) have updated estimates of global potentials for biomass from marginal and degraded lands using country-specific studies, and indicate some 30-50 EJ of biomass as a sustainable potential from such lands. Yet, they clearly indicate that the costs for such biomass will be significantly higher than for biomass from conventional agricultural production because marginal and/or degraded land needs preparation to produce feedstock, and yields are typically lower. What’s more, that transport distances from often remote areas where marginal and/or degraded land is located implies higher cost, and possible investment requirements for additional transport infrastructure.
Bioenergy has significant potential to mitigate GHGs if resources are sustainably developed and efficient technologies are applied. Certain current systems and key future options, including perennial crops, forest products and biomass residues and wastes, and advanced conversion technologies, can deliver significant GHG mitigation performance—an 80 to 90% reduction compared to the fossil energy baseline. However, land conversion and forest management that lead to a large loss of carbon stocks and iLUC effects can reduce – and in some cases more than neutralize – the net positive GHG mitigation impacts.
In order to achieve the high potential deployment levels of biomass for energy, increases in competing food and fibre demand must be moderate, land must be properly managed and agricultural and forestry yields must increase substantially. Expansion of bioenergy in the absence of monitoring and good governance of land use carries the risk of significant conflicts with respect to food supplies, water resources and biodiversity, as well as a risk of low or negative GHG benefits. Conversely, implementation that follows effective sustainability frameworks could mitigate such conflicts and allow realization of positive outcomes, for example, in rural development, land amelioration and climate change mitigation, including opportunities to combine adaptation measures.
The impacts and performance of biomass production and use are region- and site-specific. Therefore, as part of good governance of land use and rural development, bioenergy policies need to consider regional conditions and priorities along with the agricultural (crops and livestock) and forestry sectors. Biomass resource potentials are influenced by and interact with climate change impacts but the specific impacts are still poorly understood; there will be strong regional differences in this respect. Bioenergy and new, perennial cropping systems also offer opportunities to combine adaptation measures such as soil protection, water retention and modernization of agriculture with production of biomass resources.