Bioenergy crops are expected to grow up to 39 EJ by 2030, as analyzed and suggested by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The global energy picture is changing rapidly in favor of renewable energy. According to IRENA’s global renewable energy roadmap – REmap 2030 – if the realisable potential of all renewable energy technologies beyond the business as usual are implemented, renewable energy could account for 36% of the global energy mix in 2030. This would be equal to a doubling of
the global renewable energy share compared to 2010 levels.

tania Tibbar GKG

Several projects are already demonstrating this trend in tropical countries where lignocellulosic perennial crops can improve soil organic matter and replace fossil energy sources. Photo: TIBBAR ENERGY USVI

IRENA predicts that biomass use for power and district heating could reach 36 EJ, or one-third of total use, in 2030, while use in transport applications could climb to 31 EJ, or 29 per cent of total use. Heat for industry and buildings would reach 41 EJ, of which only 6 EJ would come from traditional methods.

Biomass from energy crops: How much un-used land?

Well, the good news is that IRENA establish a very strict sustainability criteria for solid biomass from dedicated energy crops. All food demand predictions and food security criteria are being considered for all lands and they assumed currents trends of sustainability including the fact that several areas of the world are experiencing dobule production (food and energy from same land).  Irena uses data from FAO (2014) and established that “According to the FAO, worldwide there are approximately 13 billion hectares (ha) of land available, of which 4.5 billion ha are suitable for crop production. Out of this 4.5 billion ha, 1.8 billion ha is not available for crop production as they are used for non-agricultural purpose (e.g., urban and protected areas) or needs to be protected for environmental protection (closed forests6 ). Thus, the total amount of suitable land available for crop production is estimated at approximately 2.7 billion ha. The current production of food crops utilises some 1.5 billion ha of land, of which 1.3 billion ha falls under this category of “suitable land”. As a result, about 1.4 billion ha additional land is suitable but unused to date and thus could be allocated for bioenergy supply in future.

Bioenergy Crops shares

IRENA’s recommendations center on expanding power from biomass and energy crops are expected to be a very large share (26-34% of total biomass) using only very marginal lands not used for food. Chart: Breakdown of biomass supply potential estimates by type, 2030

In the assessment of the high range of supply, (i) very suitable, (ii) suitable, (iii) moderately suitable, and (iv) marginally suitable land was selected. Closed forests, highly protected areas and land reserved for infrastructure and housing were excluded. For the low range of supply, marginally suitable land was excluded from the analysis. In this assessment, only “cereal” is assumed as the potential energy crop, which results in a conservative supply potential. Including the assessment of sugar and oil crops, permanent grass, algae and other suitable resources could increase the bioenergy supply potentials.


Breakdown of biomass supply by regions, 2030

Breakdown of biomass supply by regions, 2030

Bioenergy crops to be grown on marginal lands: where are those lands?

It is clear that total potential for biomass sector will be in Asia, however it is expected by IRENA that bioenergy crops potential become maximum in Latin America, followed by N.America, Europe and Africa.

Renewable Subsidies Cheaper Than Fossil Fuels

Even if the entire package of REmap2030 policy recommendations is instituted, the renewable energy sector would require $315 billion per year by 2030, a price tag that pales in comparison to the $544 billion in subsidies fossil fuels received in 2012 according to the International Monetary Fund. The bill looks even like an even better bargain after factoring in up to $740 billion in health and environmental benefits from reduced emissions by 2030.

Find the report here.

Find alternatives for marginal lands here.