In 2021, bioenergy accounted for 2.4% of global electricity production. Bioenergy is widely assumed to be carbon neutral, but recent scientific evidence shows that many forms of bioenergy are a major risk of significant carbon emissions.
Share of bioenergy in global electricity (%)
Small player in global electricity - but emissions risks remain
China is the world’s largest single consumer of bioenergy accounting for 23% of global consumption. However, European countries, where the primary form of bioenergy for power is wood derived from forests, are also major consumers, accounting for a combined 27% of global bioenergy consumption.
Ember’s Global Electricity Review revealed that electricity generation from bioenergy grew by 35% (+168 TWh) globally between 2015-2021.
The IEA Net Zero Roadmap sees an almost five-fold increase in electricity generation from solid bioenergy by 2050. However, it will be extremely challenging to ensure that this does not come at a cost to the climate, so we continue to investigate a future without bioenergy.
IPCC models aligned with 1.5C show just 2% of bioenergy by 2040.
Last updated: Nov 2022
The world's biggest bioenergy generators
Bioenergy in the power sector risks jeopardising net zero
Burning bioenergy is a very risky method of generating power and so its large-scale inclusion in the power sector jeopardises our ability to reach net zero emissions. Given the availability of risk-free alternatives to generating electricity such as wind and solar, countries should aim to minimise or eliminate the inclusion of large-scale bioenergy in the power sector.
Bioenergy, particularly solid biomass in the form of wood, is often seen as a carbon neutral alternative to solid fossil fuels, for example in the EU Emissions Trading System. However, a growing majority of scientific evidence shows that burning biomass, in particular wood, for power is often not carbon neutral – and in some circumstances can be a worse polluter than coal.
Beyond the high-carbon risk, the IPCC outlines how large-scale bioenergy is associated with a number of other consequential risks, including in food production, biodiversity, social cohesion and human rights, by driving up demand for land, and leading to the over-use of water and nutrient resources.
Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is now being piloted at small scale as a way to create negative emissions. Ensuring true negative emissions in the long-term is dependent on replanting and commitment to manage energy crops and forests over many decades after the point of generation. BECCS carries with it the same risks and uncertainties as unabated bioenergy burning, and so must be approached carefully and with caution by decision-makers. Other routes to negative emissions may be lower risk, including land-use restoration and afforestation.