It is estimated that biomass covers currently up to 15% of the world energy demand, almost 1/3 of all energy consumption in the Less-Developed Countries. This rate was over the last years rather constant, with increasing overall demand bioenergy consumption increased in absolute terms.

Table 1 : World Energy Consumption pattern 1997 (ref 1)

Biomass Share

Total World 9.6 Bio TOE 1-1.5 Bio TOE 11-15%

Asia 2.3 Bio TOE 0.6-0.8 Bio TOE >30%

Africa 0.4 Bio TOE 0.2-0.27 Bio TOE >50%

Lat. America 0.4 Bio TOE

Table 1 makes it clear that the proportion of bioenergy is particularly high in Africa. In most sub-saharan countries biomass counts for over 80% of all energy needs. As it is mostly used for cooking, fuelwood is almost exclusively used. A large biomass resource of straw and agricultural residues remains untapped.

Biomass has a role to play in the current attempt to save the world’s climate and to find ways and means to implement the “Kyoto agreement”. The prospect that developing countries are going to increase substantially their greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions sidelining current biomass consumption, is part of an intense bargaining between donor nations and LDC’s today.

Table 4 : Future Trends (Business as Usual) Population Growth (in Billion People)

1990 2020

World 5.2 7.9

EU 0.36 0.38

DCs 4 6.4

Table 5 : Future Trends (Business as Usual) Primary Energy Demand (in Billion TOE)

1990 2020

EU 1.3 1.6

DCs 2.5 7.3

Table 4 : Summarises the population growth scenarios. The energy consumption growth is shown in Table 5[4].

Highest growth rates are expected in Asia and Latin America. By 2020 the proportion of people living in cities in the LDC’s are expected to double. Accordingly, energy consumption in the cities will grow over proportionally. In the Sahel, cities and towns will see their energy quadruplicating over the next 20 years while it will grow by a “mere” 50% in the village.

Resource wise these “business-as-usual” projections over the next 20 years look straightforward and normal. Even for a tight situation like in Sahel the biomass resource required in such conventional scenarios will be available.


1.1. Advantages

• Sufficient competitiveness of biomass as energy resource in comparison with hydrocarbon

• High potentiality (large areas of crop-land ¬ marginal land - semiarid land)

• Possibility to penetrate all energy market (heat power - transport - chemicals)

• Possibility of bioenergy systems on very small scale (few KW) - or very large scale (hundred of MW)

• Significant environmental benefits as far as pollution concerns

• Positive effects on employment in rural areas for the biomass resource production

1.2. Disadvantages

* Need of supplying expensive energy feedstock

* Difficulty in the identification of the most promising systems

* Optimisation of bioenergy activity requires very deep knowledge of wide sectorial competence (~100 sectors)

* Need to adopt horizontal and vertical integration of sub-systems to improve the economic basis of bioenergy complexes

* Water, soil, climatic, environmental constraints limiting the biomass productivity and the choice of plants


2.1. Land

On all continents the potential crop-land available for bioenergy is significant.

In the European Union, the potential crop-land is estimated to be 40 million ha, in the USA around 70 million ha, in Africa 700 million ha (also assuming that the land is used twice for the production of food). The figure for Latin America is estimated to be still higher.

2.2. Water

Water is vital for biomass product. Increased human activity requires more and more water. Its availability is shrinking as shown in the figure below: