J1117e: Potential bioenergy pathways: From biomass to final energy use


Burning harvested organic matter – biomass – provided most of mankind’s energy needs for millennia. Using such fuels remains the primary energy source for many people in developing and emerging economies, but such “traditional use” of biomass is often unsustainable, with inefficient combustion leading to harmful emissions with serious health implications.

Modern technologies can convert this organic matter to solid, liquid and gaseous forms that can more efficiently provide for energy needs and replace fossil fuels. A wide range of biomass feedstocks can be used as sources of bioenergy. These include: wet organic wastes, such as sewage sludge, animal wastes and organic liquid effluents, and the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (MSW); residues and co-products from agroindustries and the timber industry; crops grown for energy, including food crops such as corn, wheat, sugar and vegetable oils produced from palm, rapeseed and other raw materials; and nonfood crops such as perennial lignocellulosic plants (e.g. grasses such as miscanthus and trees such as short-rotation willow and eucalyptus) and oilbearing plants (such as jatropha and camelina).

Many processes are available to turn these feedstocks into a product that can be used for electricity, heat or transport. The figure illustrates a number of the main pathways available for these applications (IEA and FAO, 2017). The most common pathways to date have been: the production of heat and power from wood, agricultural residues and the biogenic fraction of wastes; maize and sugarcane to ethanol; and rapeseed, soybean and oil crops to biodiesel. Each of these bioenergy pathways consists of several steps, which include biomass production, collection or harvesting, processing to improve the physical characteristics of the fuel, pre-treatment to alter chemical properties, and finally conversion of the biomass to useful energy. The number of these steps may differ depending on the type, location and source of biomass, and the technology used to provide the relevant final energy use.

Source: International Energy Agency. “Technology Roadmap: Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy” http://www.iea.org




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