What is IEA Bioenergy?

FAQ brochure on TCPs

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IEA Bioenergy is an organisation set up in 1978 by the International Energy Agency (IEA) with the aim of improving cooperation and information exchange between countries that have national programmes in bioenergy research, development and deployment.

The International Energy Agency acts as energy policy advisor to 28 Member Countries plus the European Commission, in their effort to ensure reliable, affordable, and clean energy for their citizens. Founded during the oil crisis of 1973-74, the IEA’s initial role was to co-ordinate measures in times of oil supply emergencies. As energy markets have changed, so has the IEA. Its mandate has broadened to incorporate the “Three E’s” of balanced energy policy making: energy security, economic development, and environmental protection. Current work focuses on climate change policies, market reform, energy technology collaboration and outreach to the rest of the world, especially major producers and consumers of energy like China, India, Russia and the OPEC countries.

Activities are set up under Technology Collaboration Programmes. These are independent bodies operating in a framework provided by the IEA. There are 42 currently active Technology Collaboration Programmes, one of which is IEA Bioenergy.

A sustainable solution

Bioenergy is defined as material which is directly or indirectly produced by photosynthesis and which is utilised as a feedstock in the manufacture of fuels and substitutes for petrochemical and other energy intensive products. Organic waste from forestry and agriculture, and municipal solid waste are also included in the collaborative research, as well as broader ‘cross-cutting studies’ on systems analysis, environmental and economic sustainability, bioenergy trade, fuel standards, greenhouse gas balances, and barriers to deployment.

Bioenergy is already making a substantial contribution to supplying global energy demand, and can make an even larger contribution, providing greenhouse gas savings and other environmental benefits, as well as contributing to energy security, improving trade balances, providing opportunities for social and economic development in rural communities, and helping with the management of wastes, so improving resource management.

Estimates indicate that bioenergy could sustainably contribute between 25% and 33% to the future global primary energy supply (up to 250 EJ) in 2050. It is the only renewable source that can replace fossil fuels in all energy markets – in the production of heat, electricity, and fuels for transport.

However, increasing deployment of bioenergy also poses some challenges. The potential for competition for land and for raw material with other biomass uses must be carefully managed. Bioenergy must compete with other energy sources and options. Logistics and infrastructure issues must be managed, and there is need for further technological innovation leading to more efficient and cleaner conversion of a more diverse range of feedstocks. Policy makers and the public at large will need to be confident that expansion of bioenergy is sustainable.

There are many bioenergy routes which can be used to convert a range of raw biomass feedstocks into a final energy product. Technologies for producing heat and power from biomass are already well developed and competitive in many applications, as are some first generation routes to biofuels for transport. A wide range of additional conversion technologies are under development, offering prospects of improved efficiencies, lower costs and improved environmental performance.

Working together gets results

Progress in energy technology is critical to achieving the objectives of energy security, environmental protection and economic and social development. International collaboration is needed to prepare practical responses to global environmental issues. Energy technology innovation is occurring in an inter-connected world in which national efforts to adapt to change no longer suffice. National energy RD&D and deployment programmes gain impact when incorporated into the larger context of international interdependence.

IEA Bioenergy offers opportunities to coordinate the work of national programmes across the wide range of bioenergy technologies.

Benefits of IEA Bioenergy

IEA Bioenergy provides an umbrella organisation and structure for a collective effort where national experts from research, government and industry work together with experts from other member countries. Resources are provided in two main ways:

  • Cost Sharing – participants contribute to a common fund for conducting research projects and information exchange.
  • Task Sharing – participants devote specified resources and personnel to conduct an agreed work programme.

The collaboration offers many benefits at both the policy and technical level including the ability to:

  • Strengthen national R&D capabilities.
  • Share research costs.
  • Pool technical resources.
  • Avoid duplication and unproductive research paths.
  • Network researchers.
  • Standardise methodologies.
  • Harmonise technical standards.
  • Enhance the quality of R&D outputs.
  • Disseminate information on technology capabilities.
  • Accelerate the deployment of new technologies.
  • Build a common understanding of the technical basis for issues.
  • Investigate barriers to implementation.
  • Contribute to energy policy development.

Researchers, policy-makers and industry can all capitalise on these benefits.

Collaborative opportunities

IEA Bioenergy provides opportunities for:

  • Researchers – to exchange information on recent developments in R&D through networking, meetings and/or workshops; to provide opportunities for collaborative R&D.
  • Industry – to be informed of new projects; to work together to develop handbooks or models; to offer early participation of industrial partners in RD&D work.
  • Policy-makers and decision-makers – to gain an international perspective on progress in bioenergy; to compile guidelines and standards; to gain new perspectives on deployment opportunities and issues.

IEA Bioenergy Members

Twenty five countries plus the European Commission participate in IEA Bioenergy.

European Commission
New Zealand
South Africa
United Kingdom

The government of each member country designates a contracting party to the Technology Collaboration Programme.