Bioenergy is a bigger deal than you think – which is why the details matter

(Climate Home News, 21 Jul 2022) For as long as the human species has been around, we’ve burned plants to meet our needs. Millennia before humans were burning oil and gas, we were burning wood for heat and light.

Nowadays, plants are still used for heat and light, particularly in rural parts of the developing world. They’re also burned to spin turbines which provide electricity or power vehicles’ internal combustion engines. The various fuels derived from plants are collectively known as bioenergy.

They make up more of the modern energy mix than you might think, accounting for one tenth of global primary energy supply. While wind turbines and solar panels are the images that spring to mind when we hear “renewable”, bioenergy is also classified that way, attracting policy support. As of 2019, biomass was the biggest renewable energy source in the EU, at 60% of the total.

But the role for bioenergy in tackling climate change is fiercely disputed. “Renewable doesn’t necessarily mean sustainable,” said Stockholm Environment Institute’s biofuels expert Francis X Johnson.

That’s because the world has a limited amount of land. If it’s being used to produce energy crops, then it’s not being used to grow food or restore carbon-rich ecosystems. With food prices and hunger rising, and deforestation damaging the climate and taking away animals’ habitats, the question of how best to use land is increasingly sensitive.

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Climate Home News, 21 Jul 2022: Bioenergy is a bigger deal than you think – which is why the details matter