Bioenergy is the conversion of biomass resources such as agricultural and forest residues, organic municipal waste and energy crops into useful energy carriers including heat, electricity and transport fuels.
For thousands of years firewood was the traditional source of heat for domestic purposes - local heating and food preparation - and this is still the case in many parts of the world. Today, the availability of biomass-derived solid fuels in clean and convenient forms (e.g. chips, pellets and briquettes) and modern combustion equipment have created renewed interest in the use of solid biofuels for domestic heating. For the commercial and industrial sectors, available equipment allows the efficient production of heat from biofuels on a larger scale. The EU target is to achieve some 2.6 exajoules (or 1018 joules) of biomass-derived heat annually by 2010.
The usual route for producing electricity from biomass has two stages. The biomass, in some cases together with coal (co-firing), is first converted to heat, which is then used for the generation of electricity (or combined heat and power) using technology originally developed for conventional power production. A more modern approach, still being researched, involves the use of fuel cells. The biomass is converted to hydrogen, biogas or methanol, which is then fed to suitable fuel cells, creating heat and electricity. The target is to achieve some 162 terawatt hours (0.58 EJ) biomass-derived electricity annually by 2010.
Using transport fuels derived from biomass can reduce EU dependency on imported oil and potentially contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions. These transport bio fuels have characteristics similar or identical to fossil fuels and are easy to store. "First generation" bio fuels obtained from mainly grains and vegetable oils feedstock, have already been on the market for many years and are predominant in Latin American markets. Currently, research is focusing on creating biofuels out of wood, municipal biowaste and aquatic biomass (algae). In the next few years, second generation bio fuels (from non-food biomass feedstock) are expected to come to market at a competitive price and with an expected reduced environmental impact. The EU target is to increase the share of liquid biofuels to 10% total petrol consumption by 2020.
Biomass, in addition to being convertible into energy carriers, can also be converted into biomaterials and biochemicals. The simultaneous production of bioenergy, biomaterials and biochemicals takes place in biorefineries. In a biorefinery, analogous to a petroleum refinery, biomass feedstocks are converted into energy, fuels or other products using a range of thermochemical and biochemical processes. Some of these techniques are already at a stage of commercial development while others require further research and technological development.
Bioenergy is a priority of the Energy Theme of FP7 but is also addressed in other parts of FP7. For example the 'Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology' Theme' focuses on the sustainable production of renewable bio-resources and on Life Sciences, biotechnology and biochemistry for sustainable non-food products and processes.
Read more about:
- International Energy Agency Bioenergy
- European Renewable Energy Council
- European Biomass Association (AEBIOM)
- European Bioethanol Fuel Association (eBIO)
- European Biomass Industry Association (EUBIA)