Biomass has been used as fuel for tens of thousands of years. Development of biomass applications has made great strides in recent decades. There are now a variety of methods for converting biomass into heat and electricity, from pellets for household heating to waste used to produce electricity in commercial power plants.
Two-thirds of primary renewable energy production
Biomass and waste provided around two-thirds of primary renewable production in 2014. Consequently, bioenergy is currently the largest form of renewable energy in the EU. Biomass is used primarily in countries with extensive forest industries, where residues such as branches, wood chips and sawdust can be used to produce electricity and heat. Countries with large agricultural industries and industries that produce waste products that can be used as biofuels also have potential to increase their use of biomass.
Bioenergy plays an important role in the EU energy mix
Sustainable biomass, in particular forest biomass, will be instrumental to the EU's ability to meet ambitious objectives relating to emission reductions, security of supply and industrial competitiveness. Vattenfall sees an important role for biomass in greening society's heat demand. In addition, the use of biomass in efficient and flexible combined heat and power plants (CHPs) can help balance intermittent renewable power sources like wind and solar. Regardless of the end use of the biomass it always needs to be ensured that the woody biomass is sourced from sustainably managed forests.
The Energy Triangle
In supplying society with energy, a balance must be struck between three key dimensions: competitiveness, security of supply, and the environment and climate. No single energy source is optimal from all dimensions. This energy triangle illustrates the pros and cons of biomass.
Climate and environment: Carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere when biomass is burned, but when biomass grows it binds carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. Properly managed biomass is therefore carbon neutral over time. By using biomass in power production instead of fossil fuels, CO2 emissions are significantly reduced.
Security of supply: Biomass can be converted into a stable and reliable supply of electricity and heat. The use of biomass in efficient and flexible combined heat and power plants (CHPs) can help balance intermittent renewable power sources like wind and solar. One important step to secure sustainable sourcing volumes is to establish a global trade and certification system. Biomass resources are geographically diversified and political risk is limited.
Competitiveness: Using biomass to produce energy is currently more expensive than using energy sources such as coal, gas or nuclear power. The global biomass supply chain is developing and, over time, technological and logistical improvements will bring down prices. An increased CO2 price will also improve the economic competitiveness of biomass.