Biomass availability and sector competition

The present version of the report is a draft sent out for review by selected stakeholders. Subject to exposing our findings to review comments during a webinar June 2nd 2022, the report will be prepared as a final version.

The aims of this project have been to:

- Provide an overview of recent scientific consensus on future potentials of biomass that are estimated to be sustainably available for non-food/feed purposes, i.e. as feedstock for energy, fuels and materials/chemicals

- Provide an overview of potential demands for carbon-based fuels and feedstock from all key sectors and some insight into the green transition strategies pursued by the sectors

- Get some understanding of the proportions between potential biomass supply and demand in order to understand future competition for biomass feedstock

- Provide an understanding of alternatives to bioenergy, i.e. electrification, hydrogen, ammonia, and electrofuels made from CO2 and hydrogen, and if possible provide an understanding of price/cost developments of biofuels and electrofuels.

These project aims are quite wide and comprehensive and given the limited time scope of the project, it shall be considered as a ‘first step’ or pre-project that can potentially be followed up by a deeper dive into the topics subsequently.

Project procedure

The project was confined to readily available information from literature and key stakeholders. First a brief literature survey was done on biomass availability. Second, existing review of energy system design studies was used to understand demands for carbon-based substances in the energy system, using the Danish energy system as a case in order to understand the details of the system design options. This was in turn supplemented by estimated demands for carbon-containing substances from the materials and chemicals sectors including also the building sector. Third, literature data on price/cost predictions and projections for biomass, biofuels, hydrogen and electrofuels was collected in order to understand and compare their mutual cost-efficiency now and in the near to medium term future.

Finally, key stakeholders from the materials and energy sectors were invited for interviews in order to understand the present thoughts on transition strategies in the various sectors. The interviews comprised stakeholders from:

- Plastic industry: LEGO, BASF

- Cement industry: Aalborg Portland

- Building sector: Danish Architects - Industry in general: Danish Industry (Branch Organization)

- Energy systems and infrastructure: Energinet (the Danish TSO)

- Aviation sector: Airbus, Markit, NISA

- Shipping: Maersk and the Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller Center for Zero Carbon Shipping

Global biomass potentials

In 2005, with a global population of less than 7 billion people [1], the so-called Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production (HANPP) was around 220 EJ per year [2], i.e. the total net biomass harvest due to human activities. Of this harvest, 35—55 EJ per year were used to provide energy services [3], 20—30 EJ/year for roundwood, paper, and cardboard production [4], and the remainder being used mainly for food and animal feed. In 2019, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services (IPBES), released their Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services [5]. According to this expert review, the best estimate of the experts is that a million species are threatened with extinction at the present level of HANPP. Demand for biomass and land is, however, likely to increase further due to global developments; the main drivers for land and biomass demand being the projected development in population and welfare in general as well as the development towards bioenergy and biomaterials in particular.

According to the United Nations [6], the world’s population is projected to reach 9.8 billion people in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. If this population growth comes alongside a significant general increase in welfare per capita and people shift their diets towards more meat, it would result in a dramatic increase in demands for land for animal feed production [7].

Many studies have attempted to estimate the global biomass potential, i.e. how much biomass can be available for bioenergy in the future. In 2010, Haberl et al. reported a range of 160—270 EJ/year of biomass potential sustainably available for bioenergy [8]. A year after, in 2011, a comprehensive review was published by a bioenergy working group under the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC [2], reporting a consensus among the experts of a bioenergy potential ranging between 100 EJ/y and 300 EJ/y by 2050. In 2013, Haberl et al. published an updated potential of maximum 190 EJ/year [9], and in 2017, the International Energy Agency found a limit of 150 EJ/year of sustainable biomass feedstocks for their scenarios [10]. The more recent studies tend to estimate the potential to be a little lower, and consensus since 2018 seem to center around a biomass potential of 100 EJ/y by 2050 (IPCC 2018, Danish Climate Council 2018, and International Energy Agency 2021). In 2021, the Energy Transition Commission reported an even lower range of 40-60 EJ/y as their best estimate of a sustainably available potential.

The most recent study [27] from the IPCC Working Group III, i.e. their 2022 contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, states a more nuanced breakdown of the potential as (quote):

”Recent estimates of the technical bioenergy potential, when constrained by food security and environmental considerations, are within the ranges 5—50 and 50—250 EJ yr-1 by 2050 for residues and dedicated biomass production systems, respectively.”

Over time, some researchers have found also higher potentials above 300 EJ/year, but with a low agreement among other experts [11].

Summing up, there seems to be a high agreement among the scientific community that the sustainable technical potential for bioenergy by 2050 is in the region of 100 EJ/year; being equivalent to around 10 GJ/person/year in 2050 if everybody should have their equal share. Table 1 next page shows the above mentioned estimates and how they have developed over time.

An extensive deployment of bioenergy is one scenario for the transition away from fossil fuels in the effort to comply with the Paris agreement [12]. But a look at proportions calls for caution. In 2015, the world’s total primary energy supply was around 570 EJ, of which around 470 EJ were fossil fuels [13]. This was more than a doubling of the world’s total primary energy supply since 1973 [13], and for current policy scenarios, the number is projected to increase to more than 800 EJ by 2040 [25] and around 900 EJ by 2050 [26], equivalent to 90 GJ/person/year. From these numbers, it is evident that biomass alone cannot fully substitute fossil fuels. Other technologies and strategies are needed for fossil fuel substitution to avoid biomass and land constraints being a bottleneck of the green transition.


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