Solid biomass barometer 2019 Eurobserv’er

Solid biomass energy consumption trend swings depend on public policies promoting its use, but they are also highly susceptible to weather conditions. In 2018, it was a mixed bag, with variations across its uses. The demand for heat declined in the European Union, due to a milder winter, while there was a rise in electricity production. All in all, the sector’s primary energy consumption was stable (0.3% lower than in 2017) and is still below the 100 Mtoe threshold (99.3 Mtoe).

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Biomass fired power capacity EU 2019-2020

Europe enters the winter period with more biomass-fired power capacity. In the Netherlands, coal-fired plants are in the commissioning stages of wood pellet co-firing.

  • Engie’s 731MW Rotterdam plant at 10%, Uniper’s 1.1GW Maasvlakte (MPP3) plant at 15% and RWE’s 777MW Eemshaven A and B units at 15%. All are expected to begin commercial co-firing this year
  • RWE’s 630MW Amer 9 plant continues to ramp up to 80% wood pellet co-firing in 2020, having reached 50% this March
  • In the UK, MGT Power’s Teeside 299MW dedicated biomass combined heat and power plant is also due to come online in 2020


In the while, outside Europe, pellet imports in South Korea rose by just 3% on the year to 1.62mn t in the first half of 2019. Japan took 750,000t of wood pellets in the first six months of 2019 — 57% more on the year. Vietnam overtook Canada as the dominant pellet supplier to Japan in the first half of this year, accounting for a 56% share.

Data from Argus Biomass Infographic 2020 markets highlights – Timeline of market movements across Europe, Asia and North America


2019 Bioenergy for Power Generation Costs

Reference: IRENA (2019), Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2018, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi.

Bioenergy, where low-cost feedstocks are available as by-products from agricultural or forestry processes, can provide competitive electricity. In 2018, when around 5.7 GW of new bioenergy electricity generation capacity was added worldwide, the global weighted-average LCOE of new bioenergy power plants commissioned was USD 0.062/kWh – 14% lower than in 2017.


Global weighted average total installed costs, capacity factors and LCOE for bioenergy, 2010–2018


Bioenergy electricity generation options span a wide range of feedstocks and technologies.

The global weighted-average total installed costs of bioenergy projects fell to around USD 2100/kW in 2018, down form around USD 2850/kW in 2017.

Outside of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, the combustion of sugar cane bagasse, wood waste and other vegetal or agricultural wastes uses proven, low-cost technologies. By country or region, these have weighted-average total installed costs that range between USD 950/kW and USD 1650/kW. The costs for these technologies is typically higher in Europe and North America.


Total installed cost of bioenergy-fired power generation projects by selected feedstocks and country/region, 2000–2018. Differences in total installed costs for bioenergy are more significant between countries than feedstock types. Total installed costs vary significantly within countries or regions depending on the technology employed. Bioenergy projects using bagasse and rice husks as feedstocks tend to have lower installed costs than those using landfill gas, wood waste, other vegetal and agricultural waste and renewable municipal waste.


Economies of scale are evident in China and India, where large numbers of plants have been deployed. Bioenergy electricity generation plants are small compared to fossil fuel plants, though, as the logistical costs of transporting feedstock from far afield often make plants much larger than 50 MW economically unattractive.


Total installed cost of bioenergy-fired power generation projects for different capacity ranges by country/region, 2000–2018. Economies of scale are visible for total installed costs in China, India and the rest of the world, but less evident in Europe and North America.


Total installed cost of bioenergy-fired power generation projects for different capacity ranges by selected feedstock and country/region, 2000–2018. Economies of scale are evident across feedstocks for bioenergy power projects in China and India, but less evident elsewhere, given the smaller data samples available.


Project capacity factors and weighted averages of bioenergy-fired power generation projects by feedstock and country/region, 2000–2018. Country and regional weighted-average capacity factors range from 63% in China to 83% in North America. Capacity factors tend to be higher for larger projects.


Project capacity factors and weighted averages of selected feedstocks for bioenergy fired power generation projects by country and region, 2000–2018. Capacity factors for individual projects typically span the 25 – 90% range, with weighted averages by technology and region ranging from 39% to 93%. Capacity factors for bagasse are lower than for other feedstocks, reflecting the seasonal availability of feedstock supplies.


LCOE by project and weighted averages of bioenergy-fired power generation projects by feedstock and country/region, 2000–2018. China and India have the lowest average LCOEs at around USD 0.06/kWh. LCOEs are higher in Europe and North America, at around USD 0.08/kWh and USD 0.09/kWh, respectively, due to higher shares of plants combusting renewable municipal waste. Ranges are wide across all regions, reflecting the diversity of installed costs, feedstock availability and technologies employed.


LCOE and capacity factor by project and weighted averages of selected feedstock for bioenergy-fired power generation projects by country/region, 2000–2018. Bagasse plant LCOEs typically fall between USD 0.03/kWh and USD 0.08/kWh, with capacity factors ranging from 40% to 90%. LCOEs for landfill gas projects have lower LCOEs at higher capacity factors, while some larger projects utilising “other vegetal and agricultural waste” (with higher feedstock costs) tend to have higher LCOEs. Bioenergy projects using rice husks as feedstocks tend to have LCOEs between USD 0.03 and USD 0.07/kWh, for capacity factors between 50% and 90%.


Fixed operations and maintenance (O&M) costs for bioenergy power plants typically range from 2% to 6% of total installed costs per year, while variable O&M costs are typically relatively low, at around USD 0.005/ KWh. Fixed O&M costs include labour, scheduled maintenance, routine component/ equipment replacement (for boilers, gasifiers, feedstock handling equipment, etc.), insurance, etc. The fixed O&M costs of larger plants are lower per kW due to economies of scale, especially for labour. Variable O&M costs are determined by the output of the system and are usually expressed as USD/ kWh. Non-biomass fuel costs, such as ash disposal, unplanned maintenance, equipment replacement and incremental serving costs are the main components of variable O&M costs. Unfortunately, the available data often merges fixed and variable O&M costs into one number, thus rendering impossible a breakdown between fixed and variable O&M costs.


Fixed and variable O&M costs for bioenergy power

Woody biomass role in EU 20% target for RE consumption and influences on pellets trade

How are the EU member states contributing to the 20% target for EU’s renewable energy consumption? Which role for woody biomass and how this influences pellets trade?

A recent paper by Proskurina et al. (Biomass & Bioenergy; discusses this interesting topic. Among the conclusions:

  • For countries that already reach their national biomass targets or have a difference less than 15%, woody biomass plays an important role for electricity generation and H&C sector, mostly for Finland and Austria.
    Finland, Romania, Austria and Sweden have a large biomass potential.
  • Countries whose biomass still needs to increase from 15% to 30% have a realistic likelihood of reaching their own local biomass targets. Denmark, Lithuania, Italy, Spain, Slovakia are likely to increase woody biomass use for heat and electricity production.

  • In countries whose required biomass share increase is more than 30%, France and the UK have huge domestic energy consumption, thus, the development of renewables in these countries is crucial. Belgium and the Netherlands have woody biomass demand higher than potential.

Reported trends can be compared with new data from Schipfer et al. (CEBC, 2017, here) presenting their report (here) about the International wood pellet trade for Small-scale heating in the EU. Further details concerning the global wood pellets industry (2017 update) here.

Mapping UK Bioenergy Research 

Developed by the EBRI Group at Aston University, Mapping UK Bioenergy Research Stakeholders provides a current, holistic overview of bioenergy research in the UK to encourage and promote collaboration between research stakeholders.

Bioenergy is the largest contributor to global renewable energy supply but needs to triple its contribution by 2050 to support sector decarbonisation and safeguard future generations.

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Traditional vs. modern biomass: the transition

The plot presented in this post, made with Gapminder (thanks to Hans Rosling), is a comparison of use of solid biomass for energy purposes (expressed as % of TPES*, on the y-axis) among different selected countries.

This comparison is made including a United Nations’ indicator, called Human Development Index, HDI (on the x-axis). The HDI is “a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and per capita income indicators”, and is used to rank countries in terms of human development” (Wikipedia). Countries with a HDI > 0,85 are considered with a very high HDI, countries with a HDI < 0,50 are considered with a low HDI.

From the plotted data, we note that:

  • Countries with a low HDI (e.g. <0,50) evidence a high use of solid biomass for energy purposes (> 30% of the TPES). For some African countries, most of the produced energy is coming from solid biofuels.
  • Countries with a medium/high HDI, evidence a lower use of solid biomass for energy purposes (<25% of the TPES).
  • Over time, the use of solid biofuels to produce energy is decreasing in countries with a low HDI in the time frame 2000-2010 (but there are some exceptions!). The use of solid biofuels to produce energy is increasing in countries with a very high HDI  (HDI>0,75) in the time frame 2000-2010.

This trends might be explained looking at:

  • The progressive reduction in the use of traditional biomass (non commercial by-products, animal dung burned for cooking and heating purposes, in developing countries). The World Health Organization estimates that 1,5 M premature deaths per year are directly attributable to indoor air pollution from the use of such traditional biomass and charcoal.
  • The investments, e.g. in the EU countries, to increase the share of energy produced from “modern” solid biomass, as an increasing share in their TPES.

The trends of the points representing the countries, moving along the timeline, draw a “hockey stick” shape. Based on such representation, some interesting questions arise:

  • How quickly traditional biomass can be substituted by other renewable energy sources (including modern biomass)?
  • Is it possible to convert traditional biomass in modern bioenergy technologies (reducing e.g. indoor air pollution)?
  • How to calculate the maximum possible contribution of energy from solid biomass in the TPES for each country? Can all countries with high values of HDI, follow the “hockey stick” trend?

What is your opinion? Comments are welcomed.

*Total primary energy supply (TPES) is the “total amount of primary energy that a country has at their disposal and it is made up of: indigenous production +  imports –  exports –   international marine and aviation bunkers +/- stock changes.” (IEA, 2017).