Global Biomass Energy Potential

  • José Roberto MoreiraEmail author


The intensive use of renewable energy is one of the options to stabilize CO2atmospheric concentration at levels of 350 to 550ppm. A recent evaluation of the global potential of primary renewable energy carried out by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sets a value of at least 2800EJ/yr, which is more than the most energy-intensive SRES scenario forecast for the world energy requirement up to the year 2100. Nevertheless, what is really important to quantify is the amount of final energy since the use of renewable sources may involve conversion efficiencies, from primary to final energy, different from the ones of conventional energy sources. In reality, IPCC does not provide a complete account of the final energy from renewables, but the text claims that using several available options to mitigate climate change, and renewables is only one of them, it is possible to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration at a low level. In this paper, we evaluate in detail biomass primary and final energy using sugarcane crop as a proxy, since it is one of the highest energy density forms of biomass, and through afforestation/reforestation using a model presented in IPCC Second Assessment Report (SAR). The conclusion is that the primary-energy potential for biomass has been under-evaluated by many authors and by IPCC, and this under-evaluation is even larger for final energy since sugarcane allows co-production of electricity and liquid fuel. Regarding forests we reproduce IPCC results for primary energy and calculate final energy. Sugarcane is a tropical crop and cannot be grown in all the land area forecasted for biomass energy plantation in the IPCC/TAR evaluation (i.e. 1280Mha). Nevertheless, there are large expanses of unexploited land, mainly in Latin America and Africa that are subject to warm weather and convenient rainfall. With the use of 143Mha of these lands it is possible to produce 164EJ/yr (1147GJ/hayr or 3.6W/m2on average) of primary energy and 90EJ/yr of final energy in the form of liquid fuel (alcohol) and electricity, using agricultural productivities near the best ones already achievable and biomass gasification technology. More remarkable is that these results can be obtained with the operation of 4,000 production units with unitary capacity similar to the largest currently in operation. These units should be spread over the tropical land area yielding a plantation density similar to the one presently observed in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, where alcohol and electricity have been commercialized in a cost-effective way for several years. Such an amount of final energy would be sufficiently large to fulfill all the expected global increase in oil demand, as well as in electricity consumption by 2030, assuming the energy demand of such sources continues to grow at the same pace observed over the last two decades. When sugarcane crops are combined with afforestation/reforestation it is possible to show that carbon emissions decline for some IPCC SRES scenarios by 2030, 2040 and 2050. Such energy alternatives significantly reduce CO2emissions by displacing fossil fuels and promote sustainable development through the creation of millions of direct and indirect jobs. Also, it opens an opportunity for negative CO2emissions when coupled with carbon dioxide capture and storage.


biomass mitigation carbon dioxide intensive culture 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CENBIO – Brazilian Reference Center on BiomassSão PauloBrazil

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