Bioenergy and its Benefits
What is Bioenergy?
Bioenergy is renewable electricity, heat or fuels from organic materials that are most often sourced from rural businesses in the agricultural, timber and food processing sectors. Making use of biobased feedstocks can enhance the resilience of rural industries by creating revenue for their waste streams while also benefiting the environment by replacing fossil-based fuels and sequestering carbon.
Source Materials of Bioenergy Feedstocks
- Forest & Sawmill Residues
- Purpose-Grown Crops
- Agricultural Co-Products
- Food Waste
- Animal Manure
- Landfill Gas
- Municipal Solid Waste
- Wastewater Treatment Sludge & Residues
What Do Biobased Materials Create?
Biobased materials can be used to generate electricity, heat (either with pellets or bio-oil), or transportation fuel (often using either an enzymatic or thermochemical process to produce a product that can replace gasoline or diesel). Biobased products also can be used to manufacture renewable chemicals and other high-value products, such as bioplastics and polymers.
Greenhouse Gas Benefits
Biobased fuels are a renewable source of energy because waste residues will always exist in these sectors. Bioenergy provides greenhouse gas benefits, and these benefits have been cited by many scientists and government officials, including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- Working forests and purpose-grown energy crops remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. In fact, working forests are much more effective at capturing carbon than unmanaged forests, which grow slowly and have a greater risk of massive carbon releases, potentially occurring in wildfires or insect epidemics.
- Bioenergy displaces the use of fossil fuels and prevents geologic carbon from being released into the atmosphere. When fossil fuel use is avoided, the geologic storage of carbon is preserved. This prevents the addition of new carbon to the atmosphere.
- Conversion of municipal solid waste to fuel and products also provides major carbon benefits. If sent to landfill, the biomass component of municipal solid waste is typically converted by natural processes to methane – a potent greenhouse gas – and released to the atmosphere. Bioenergy production from MSW avoids this methane release – and the carbon emissions from fossil fuels that would otherwise be burned for energy.
- Biobased products store carbon for a very long time, even while new forests and crops are growing. Forest products and other biobased products, such as renewable chemicals, are carbon sinks. And the use of wood for building construction is much more energy efficient than other materials like steel and concrete.
- Sustainable purpose-grown energy crop production is also a sink for carbon. As in forests, a significant portion of the carbon removed by crops from the atmosphere in photosynthesis is added to the soil and permanently removed from the atmosphere. Many energy crops can be grown on marginal or degraded land, bringing new photosynthetic activity – and thus increased uptake of atmospheric carbon – to these areas. Analysis for the federal Renewable Fuel Standard by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified several biofuel pathways that are net carbon sinks – even on a lifecycle basis that includes emissions from energy used in crop production.
“A combination of bioenergy production with carbon sink options can result in maximum benefit from mitigation strategies. This can be achieved by planting energy crops such as short rotation coppice into arable or pasture land, which increases the carbon density of that land, while also yielding a source of biomass… In the long term, a sustainable forest-management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest, will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.” – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Looking for More Information?
Bioenergy is a diverse resource with many environmental, economic and societal benefits. If you have additional questions about this form of renewable energy or on other related topics, pleases visit these authoritative websites for more information.