Bioenergy Facts

Bioenergy is energy derived from biomass – organic material such as wood, plants or animal waste. This energy can be used to generate electricity, supply heat and produce biofuels.

The many uses of biomass

Biomass can be used to supply heat, generate power and fuel transportation.
As a fuel, it may include wood, wood waste, straw, manure, sugar cane, palm oil, soy and many other by-products from a variety of agricultural processes.

It can be used directly, such as wood burning for heating and cooking.

Or indirectly, by converting it into a liquid or gaseous fuel – ethanol from sugar cane, biodiesel from palm oil, or biogas from animal waste.

Renewable energy

Unlike oil, coal and gas, bioenergy is a renewable energy made out of biological material that can be harvested again and again.

Traditional biomass includes fuel wood and charcoal for domestic use, rice husks, other plant residues and animal dung. These resources are mostly used on a small-scale, particularly in developing countries.

Modern biomass usually involves large-scale uses and is a substitute for conventional fossil fuels. This includes forest wood and agricultural residues, urban waste, and biogas and biofuels from energy crops, such as plant oils and plants containing starch and sugar.

	© Michèle Dépraz / WWF
Eucalyptus wood chips. Biomass from forestry and farming has the potential to become a major source for sustainable power generation.
© Michèle Dépraz / WWF

Is it sustainable?

Of all the renewable energies, biomass is unique as it is stored solar energy. If managed and used correctly, it can be carbon-neutral.

But, bioenergy production can also have significant negative environmental and social impacts.

Depending on which crops are produced, bioenergy developments can lead to deforestation, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, excessive water use, land use conflicts, food shortages and staple food crop price spikes.

Sustainable bioenergy

WWF only supports bioenergy that is environmentally, socially and economically sustainable.

By using modern and efficient technologies, biomass can offer a source of clean energy that can gradually replace coal and other fossil fuels, bringing environmental benefits, supporting rural development and creating new
employment opportunities.

WWF is working with partners around the world to influence bioenergy policies, as well as with private sectors and their supply chains – from producers, manufacturers and processors to buyers, retailers and investors – to transform and drive entire commodity markets including bioenergy, towards greater sustainability.
Environmental advantages of biomass production include:

  • Substituting fossil fuel use with a CO2-neutral alternative
  • Reducing emissions of atmospheric pollutants, like sulphur
  • Protecting soil & watersheds
  • Increasing or maintaining biodiversity

Facts & Figures

    • Today, biomass power plants have passed the 50 GW global capacity bar.
    • Bioenergy accounts for more than 10% of the energy consumed worldwide, mostly consumed in developing countries.
    • The world produces over 70 billion litres of ethanol yearly and over 12 billion litres of biodiesel; mainly used in the transport sector.
    • The majority of liquid biofuels, such as biodiesel and bioethanol, are produced in the US, Brazil and Germany.
    • In 1900, Rudolf Diesel demonstrated his engine at the World Exhibition in Paris by running it on peanut oil; similarly, Henry Ford expected his Model T to run on ethanol.

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