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Bioenergy overview

Bioenergy is a renewable energy that can generate many additional benefits, the extent of which depends on a combination of factors including the types of feedstocks used, how they are produced and transported and the efficiency of the technologies deployed to convert them to bioenergy.

Bioenergy is energy produced from organic matter derived from plants or animals. Bioenergy is generated from living, or recently harvested matter, as opposed to fossil fuel. Fossil fuels, although originally derived from organic matter, have been created over long periods through biological and geological processes and are essentially non-renewable.

Specific types of organic matter used to produce bioenergy are called biomass or bioenergy feedstocks. Being a storage house of bioenergy, biomass can be considered to be natures 'solar batteries'.

The energy biomass produces can be converted into electricity, heat or biofuels. Bioenergy can be as simple as a wooden log fire or a complex refined transport fuel.

Most bioenergy can be traced back to energy from sunlight, making it a major renewable energy source.
Bioenergy is the most widely used renewable energy in the world, providing around 10% of the world’s primary energy supplies, mostly as thermal energy for heating and cooking.

Types of biomass

Sources of bioenergy include agricultural crops, animal and plant wastes, algae, wood and organic residential/industrial waste. The type of biomass will determine the amount of energy that can be produced and the technology that can be used to produce it.  For example some agricultural crops, such as canola, can be used to produce liquid biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel for transport. Or waste streams, such as manure, are well suited to produce biogas, which can then be used to generate electricity and heat or upgraded to use as a transport fuel.

How bioenergy is produced

There are many ways to produce bioenergy. It depends on the biomass material and the type of bioenergy you want to produce. Some processes can be relatively simple, like growing, harvesting and burning wood for electricity and/or heat generation. Others can be more complicated, like algae production for transport fuels, which requires a controlled system with measured amounts of special algae species, water, nutrients and carbon dioxide. This is followed by separating the algae and oils, which need to be refined further to make biofuels.

A variety of conversion pathways can be used to convert biomass into bioenergy to provide heat, electricity, or transportation. Biomass conversion pathways are usually thermal, biochemical or physical, either alone or in or a combination. Biomass can be converted to energy via a range of technologies including engines, boilers, refineries, turbines and fuel cells.