Press Release – Modern bioenergy provides opportunities for developing countries

May 2023

24 May 2023 – At the online event ’Opportunities of bioenergy and biofuels in developing economies‘, organized on 22 and 23 May by the IEA Bioenergy Technology Collaboration Programme (IEA Bioenergy) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), more than 500 participants from around the world joined to discuss what can be done to seize bioenergy opportunities in developing countries to accelerate the transition to clean energy and improve energy access.


Over the past decades and in multiple countries, modern types of bioenergy have helped to reduce the dependency on imported fossil fuels, provide clean alternatives to traditional forms of bioenergy, and support the development of local economies. If biomass resources are produced sustainably and used efficiently, their energy use can lead to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil energy. Overall, bioenergy provides the potential to develop sustainable and circular solutions for all energy uses, i.e. heating/cooking, electricity, and transport fuels. For developing economies, sustainable bioenergy fits within the overall goal to fight energy poverty, increase energy security and ensure energy access, which is preferentially broadly based on local renewable energy sources.

Jossy Thomas, lead of the Bioenergy Programme at UNIDO stated: “Bioenergy can link agriculture, industry and energy sectors therebycreate self-reliance, energy security, economic empowerment, and gender equality in developing countries and Small Island States. Sustainably produced bioenergy can fast track achievement of SDGs and NDC commitments in a cost-effective manner.”

Generally, biomass is one of the most important local renewable energy sources, particularly in developing countries. However, many developing economies still rely heavily on ‘traditional’ bioenergy use for cooking and heating in inefficient and highly polluting devices or open fires; these practices can have severe health impacts. Moreover, the demand for fuelwood and charcoal and its inefficient use can be a driver for deforestation in certain regions. There is an urgent need to make the shift towards clean cooking and heating appliances, such as renewables based electric cooking and cleaner ‘modern’ bioenergy solutions, including bioethanol, biogas and quality devices relying on solid biomass – based on sustainably sourced biomass.

Dina Bacovsky, chair of IEA Bioenergy: “Cultivating biomass to meet energy and transport fuels demand can provide income to ruralcommunities and energy supply to remote areas. Technologies such as biomass combustion in clean and efficient stoves, biogas production from waste, bioelectricity from residues, and ethanol production from sugar and starch crops can be adapted to local needs and widely deployed in developing countries to the benefit of their populations.

The sustainable production and use of biomass resources from agriculture, forestry or landscape management can offer environmental benefits as well as new economic and job opportunities for rural communities and regions. Residues which would otherwise decompose or be burned in the field – which now leads to important air quality problems – can be utilised, or abandoned and degraded agricultural land can be revitalised, providing new sources of incomes for farmers, and improving and diversifying their livelihoods. Overall, increasing economic opportunities in rural areas can stem rural-urban drift, especially of the youth, which is particularly relevant in developing countries.

Maria Michela Morese, Energy Team Leader at FAO: “Energy and agrifood systems are strictly interlinked. Sustainable bioenergy solutionsare key to minimise competition and to leverage synergies in water and land use, and can directly support food security and nutrition, while also contributing to job creation, gender equality, and climate resilience and adaptation. The use of crop residues offers win-win opportunities. Residues are not a waste but a resource! Supporting the development of related value chains and actions to strengthen awareness are needed to take out the best from these opportunities.”

Tiziana Pirelli, Coordinator of the Global Bioenergy Partnership (GBEP) at FAO, added: “The GBEP sustainability indicators are recognizedas the most widely accepted set of indicators for the measurement of the sustainability of bioenergy. The expertise gained from the measurement of the indicators all over the world has been instrumental for collecting institutional knowledge. From our experience, tailor made modern bioenergy pathways offer unique opportunities to produce, store and use clean and renewable energy for transport, heating, and power purposes from locally available biomass.”

As developing economies see a growing demand for transport, new developments should be considered for their transport sector to avoid a growing reliance on fossil fuels. In regions with high biomass productivity, opportunities may arise to produce biofuels for national or even international markets. Certain developing countries already have a history in the production, use and trade of biofuels. Overall, a great potential exists for biofuels in emerging economies of Latin America, the Caribbean region, Africa, and Asia as these regions have a growing demand for sustainable energy, plentiful local resources, and land availability to produce both food and biofuels, also considering their potential for sustainable intensification in agricultural land use. A precondition for this expansion of biofuels production is that sustainability safeguards are applied, such as required in the RenovaBio programme in Brazil.

Glaucia Mendes Souza, professor at the University of São Paulo and coordinator of the FAPESP Bioenergy Research Programme BIOEN: We evaluated the options for increasing biofuel production in emerging markets of Latin America and identified that the conversion of small pasture areas (from 0.1% to 10%) could be sufficient to double the production of biofuels. This increase in production is welcome since demand is also high. The economic impact of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions has also been assessed. If carbon market credits for 1 ton of avoided CO2 emissions are sold at $10, for example, biofuel producers in Latin America would add $600 million a year to revenues, based on their respective productions in 2019. This could stimulate innovation and new uses for biomass.”

It is important to exchange international experiences and share key learnings from the past decades. An enabling policy environment and good prospects for market offtake are key for the required investments in biofuels production, next to an improved access to finance in developing economies. Moreover, secure biomass supply chains are a key prerequisite; this also requires connecting stakeholders in biobased value chains and assuring sustainability governance. Other key tools are capacity building, technology transfer and awareness campaigns that can show good practice examples. IEA Bioenergy is glad to join forces with international organizations such as UNIDO, the CEM Biofuture Platform, FAO, GBEP, IRENA, SEforALL and others in the international community to help developing countries in their transition to clean energy and seize the opportunities they have.

Gerard Ostheimer, Manager of the Clean Energy Ministerial Biofuture Campaign: “Recent success in creating markets for ethanol as a clean cooking fuel give confidence that bio-based fuels, chemicals, and materials can and should play an increasing role in the economies of sub-Saharan countries. We need to think deeply about how to remove barriers to greater African entrepreneurship and joint venture with global leaders of bioeconomy innovation and growth. Such events are a good way to further these conversations and transition to impactful action.”

Courtesy of UNIDO

More information on the workshop (agenda, presentations) is available here.