Regional transitions in existing bioenergy markets

Oct 2023

The full report is available here

Bioenergy is an essential component of the transition towards a climate-neutral energy sector by 2050 to meet global climate targets. However, rather than a single homogenous sector, bioenergy is a complex and diverse network of regional, national, and international value chains part of the larger bioeconomy. A better understanding is needed of how the bioenergy sector will develop in the context of the energy transition and development of the circular (bio)economy. In the Regional Transitions project, experts from IEA Bioenergy Task 40 (Deployment) have explored strategies to develop sustainable biobased value chains in a regional dynamic market contextThe focus was on feedstock supply chains, which is a cornerstone for the deployment of sustainable and reliable biobased value chains and organized in three activities as summarized below.

Key highlights:

Regional transitions – trends in the European Union and a case study for Germany

  • It remains underexplored how regional biobased value chains can be developed that, on the one hand, effectively mobilize low-value underutilized biomass sources while, on the other hand, meet the needs of high-value end-users, including flexible power generation, high-temperature heat, aviation and shipping, and biobased materials and chemicals.
  • Regulations and measures regarding the development of biobased value chains are still highly fragmented and limited to specific products or sectors. A more holistic, cross-sectoral regulation framework will be required to move towards a circular biobased economy.
  • (for Germany) biomass is expected to be shifted towards sectors or applications that are indispensable or irreplaceable and where no renewable alternatives are applicable or available. These include biobased materials and chemicals as well as specific energy services like flexible power provision, process heat generation or fuel provision for specific transport applications. The actual development depends on multiple and interdependent factors that are not sufficiently covered in available studies.

Strategies to increase the mobilization and deployment of local (endemic) low value heterogenous solid biomass resources

  • Local, low-value and heterogenous biomass feedstock types, including forestry and agricultural residues and biogenic wastes, are identified as the backbone of tomorrow’s circular bioeconomy.
  • There is a cognitive bias of Bioeconomy supply chain discussions, which currently focus on the challenges rather than the opportunities of transitioning primary economic sectors.
  • In contrast to fossil fuels sourced from concentrated points, followed by large-scale and centralized refining and distribution, biomass mobilization encompasses vast regional areas, a large array of inter- and transdisciplinary knowledge involved, and a multitude of stakeholders woven into the fabric of decentralized, adaptable, and intricate supply networks.

Adoption of bioenergy by existing agriculture and forestry biomass feedstock suppliers in the United States (Activity Based Modeling – ABM)

  • The willingness of biomass feedstock producers to participate in bioenergy/bioeconomy systems is key to the deployment of biobased value chains. Their decision-making process is, however, often influenced by numerous uncertainties and by randomness and probability due to imperfect information. An agent-based model (ABM) was used to analyze the adoption of innovative practices by forest and agriculture feedstock suppliers to deliver to the bioenergy sector.
  • Results for the herbaceous case indicate that farmers’ credibility has the highest impact on the adoption of crop residue harvest and crop cultivation. Media influence has a low impact on crop residue harvest, but has a substantial impact on energy crop grower adoption caused by high risks, access to information and best practice examples of other farmers which are less applicable to crop residue harvests.
  • Results for the woody biomass case are found to be very different from the herbaceous case studies. The availability of forest residue is linked and therefore highly dependent on the production of primary products. Alternative forest management approaches could increase forest residue availability, but the incentives to drive this behavior are yet unclear.