Policy & Regulation

19 May 2021

Bioenergy Key for Shift to Net Zero: IEA

19 May 2021  by   
The IEA sees bioenergy playing a key role in achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, which is key to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

In its Net Zero by 2050 report, published today, the IEA outlines a scenario whereby output of bioenergy — including liquid biofuels, biogases and sustainable solid bioenergy, but excluding traditional solid biomass — rises to 100 exajoules (EJ) in 2050 from less than 40EJ in 2020, enough to meet almost 20pc of the world's total energy needs.

The IEA's Net‐Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE) scenario shows global liquid biofuel consumption ramping up steeply to 6m b/d of oil equivalent (boe/d) by 2030 from 1.6m boe/d in 2020, and the use of advanced biofuels grows to 2.7m boe/d from 0.1m boe/d over the same time. But subsequent growth slows, and total use reaches 7m boe/d in 2050 including 6.2m boe/d of third-generation fuels.

The IEA's NZE puts the main role for liquid biofuels shifting from road fuels to the marine and aviation sectors from 2030 as electrification grows to dominate road transport, with over half of liquid biofuels used for aviation by 2050. By then, 45pc of total fuel used in aircraft comprises biojet under the scenario.

Biofuels are the "main viable commercial alternative to diesel" for heavy trucks operating over long distances and "play an important role in lowering emissions", the IEA said. Even as the number of electric and hydrogen-powered heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) increase, biofuels still provide around 10pc of fuel needs for the HGV sector in 2050 in the IEA's pathway.

In shipping, advanced biofuels and hydrogen-based fuels such as ammonia increasingly displace oil, and sustainable biofuels provide almost 20pc of total shipping energy needs in 2050, according to the IEA's scenario.

Gaseous bioenergy is also a key pillar for decarbonization under the IEA's net zero scenario, supplying 5.4EJ in 2030 and 13.7EJ in 2050, up from 2.1EJ in 2020.

The IEA acknowledges possible risks from bioenergy expansion to biodiversity, fresh water and food supplies, and caps volumes used in its scenario well below global output potential to limit potential trade-offs. Supply will pivot on advanced feedstocks — such as woody feedstocks — and the use of crop-based biofuels will drop to 3EJ in 2050 after rising to 11EJ in 2030 from 9EJ in 2020 in the IEA's roadmap. The scale up required for all advanced liquid biofuels in the next 10 years, including from waste oils, is the equivalent to building one 55,000 boe/d biorefinery every 10 weeks, the IEA said.

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