Global bioenergy resources

Journal name:
Nature Climate Change
Year published:
Published online


Using biomass to provide energy services is a strategically important option for increasing the global uptake of renewable energy. Yet the practicalities of accelerating deployment are mired in controversy over the potential resource conflicts that might occur, particularly over land, water and biodiversity conservation. This calls into question whether policies to promote bioenergy are justified. Here we examine the assumptions on which global bioenergy resource estimates are predicated. We find that there is a disjunct between the evidence that global bioenergy studies can provide and policymakers' desire for estimates that can straightforwardly guide policy targets. We highlight the need for bottom-up assessments informed by empirical studies, experimentation and cross-disciplinary learning to better inform the policy debate.

At a glance


  1. Estimates for the contribution of energy crops, wastes and forest biomass to future energy supply.
    Figure 1: Estimates for the contribution of energy crops, wastes and forest biomass to future energy supply.

    Vertical lines show the range of estimates for each resource category and diamonds indicate the results of individual studies (estimates include unconstrained values). Surplus agricultural land includes good quality land released from food production because yield growth exceeds demand (also called abandoned land in some studies). Rest land includes savannah, extensive grassland and shrubland. Degraded land may also be defined as low productivity or marginal land. Land categories cannot be considered fully mutually exclusive. Waste includes dung, municipal and industrial waste. Forestry describes harvest of a fraction of the global annual forest growth increment, and is a highly aggregate category defined by the FAO as areas spanning more than 0.5 ha with trees taller than 5 m. Some studies make further distinctions between primary forests and plantations.

  2. Essential preconditions for increasing levels of biomass production.
    Figure 2: Essential preconditions for increasing levels of biomass production.

    In each band the minimum essential assumptions that must be included in global biomass models to achieve the given range of biomass potential are indicated. 'All residues' includes: wastes (dung, municipal and industrial), agricultural residues and forestry residues. Indicated global net primary productivity is aboveground terrestrial productivity only. Figure reproduced with permission from ref. 13, © 2011 Raphael Slade.

  3. The range of yield and land area estimates included in global energy crop scenarios.
    Figure 3: The range of yield and land area estimates included in global energy crop scenarios.

    Diamonds indicate estimates taken from individual studies. Dashed lines show how energy crop potential would vary with planted area, assuming a constant yield between 5–15 odt ha−1.


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Author information


  1. Centre for Energy Policy & Technology, Imperial College London, 14 Princes Gardens, South Kensington, London SW7 1NA, UK

    • Raphael Slade,
    • Ausilio Bauen &
    • Robert Gross


R.S. Designed and planned the work, undertook the analysis and wrote the manuscript. A.B. and R.G. contributed to the design, drafting and review.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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  1. Supplementary Tables S1–S4 (481 KB)

    Summary of global biomass potential estimates less than 100EJ

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