Biomass heat and power and bioelectricity for transport


Heat and Power in Europe

In 2012, final energy consumption within the EU-28 was 1,104.5 Mtoe, with a share of 21.8 % of electricity and 4.4 % of heat. In electricity generation renewables accounted for 24.2 % (798.7 TWh) of total generation. From this share of renewables, 18.7 % came from biomass and renewables (149.4 TWh) (EC 2014). The primary energy production from biomass in the EU was 82.3 million metric tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe). This included 79.5 TWh of electricity and 68 Mtoe heat (EurObserv’ER 2013).

Combined Heat and Power CHP

The simultaneous generation of electricity and heat is called cogeneration or combined heat and power (CHP). In contrast to thermal power plants, CHP uses the waste heat, which is emitted during electricity generation, and therefore increases the efficiency of the process up to over 80 %. Common CHP plant types are gas turbines and engines, biofuel engines (adapted reciprocating gas engine or diesel engine), wood gasifiers, combined cycle power plants and steam engines.

Cogeneration systems are often integrated in pulp and paper mills, refineries, chemical plants and biorefineries. Bioelectricity can be used within the production process (i.e. to power the biorefinery) and/or be exported to the grid, potentially for use by electric vehicles.

Biomass resources for CHP

Different kinds of biomass resources can be used as fuel for cogeneration plants to produce heat and electricity. Biomass may be co-fired in coal power plants or combusted in smaller dedicated biomass energy plants, where there is a reliable local supply of feedstock. Typically 10 % of biomass can be used for co-firing, higher percentages may be enabled by the use of biocoal, produced via torrefaction. Biomass may also be converted into carbon-rich gases (biogas by anaerobic digestion or BioSNG via gasification), which can be used in gas engines and turbines in CHP plants.

The use of liquid biofuels, such as biodiesel, ethanol, biocrude-oil or vegetable oil, for stationary decentralized energy generation is not very common. It is technically possible to feed biofuels to power and heat generation systems, but the economics of such processes are not positive (ETA 2003). Liquid biofuel production is highly energy intensive and the product costs are high compared to other resources. Therefore, although sustainable, biofuels are not favoured for use as fuel in CHP plants.

bioelctricity car charging point

Bioelectricity in transport

In electric vehicles (EVs) a highly efficient electric motor is used for propulsion, which can be supplied by electricity from the grid, favourably from low-CO2 energy sources. Besides EVs, there are hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) (for more information see: IEA-HEV). Hybrid electric vehicles combine internal combustion engines and electric motors, saving oil and reducing CO2 emissions.

Major obstacles to market uptake are the lack of recharging points with a common plug, long recharging times and limited driving ranges. The main issues which limit the driving range of vehicles considerably are high costs, low energy density and heavy weight of batteries. The advantages of EVs are that no noise and no pollutants are emitted and therefore EVs are the preferred option for urban transport, where distances are very short and where local congestion and air quality issues are important considerations.

It is important to have a balanced mix of alternative fuels and drive systems to fulfill the needs of the different transport modes. Advanced biofuels and plug-in and hybrid vehicles will have a vital role to play in the future of sustainable transport in Europe.

Availability of biomass for bioenergy

700m tonnes of coal are used in Europe every year and there are only 300m tonnes of wood produced. So even if every piece of wood was used for biocoal production, this would still not meet current energy demand. As in other areas of bioenergy, feedstock availability (rather than technology issues) may ultimately be the limiting factor to production capacity.

See the forestry page for information on the EU forestry strategy and related R&D.

View pages on the availability of biomass and sustainability.

The rising demand for wood from the bioenergy sector led to a 30% increase in wood price in the UK in the 3 years up to 2010. Energy generator subsidies for wood fibre is causing concern for other industries, for example, chipboard manufacturers, who have seen sharp rises in costs.

Certification of sustainable biomass in the EU

The Sustainable Biomass Partnership SBP Framework of standards and processes enables producers of woody biomass to demonstrate that they source their raw material responsibly and that it complies with the regulatory, including sustainability, requirements applicable to European power generators burning woody biomass to produce energy.

Under the SBP Framework the Biomass Producer, typically a pellet mill, is certified by a SBP-approved Certification Body. To become SBP-approved, a Certification Body must first provide evidence that it meets the SBP requirements regarding its existing accreditations and it must also demonstrate that it has sufficient resources and competence to manage the certification programme.

Commercial development of bioenergy (combined heat and power) facilities

EurObserv’ER Solid Biomass Barometer for 2012 estimates that primary energy production from biomass in the EU was 82.3 million metric tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe). This included 79.5 terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity and 68 Mtoe heat. Use of biomass for heat and power is also developing rapidly in the United States: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's Office of Energy Projects reported 777 MW of new biomass capacity in 2013.

Examples of large scale bioenergy projects in Europe

A number of new large-scale bioenergy CHP plants are now being constructed in Europe and around the world. For example, in November 2014, it was announced that Abengoa will be developing a €315m biomass power plant producing 215MW of 'bioelectricity' on behalf of Belgian Eco Energy (Bee) at Ghent, Belgium. The feedstock includes wood chips and agro-residues.

A 69MW plant based at a Smurfit Kappa Group paper facility in France commenced operation in September 2012. In 2014 the Bio Golden Raand 49.9MW biomass power began operations at the port of Delfzijl, Netherlands. The plant is operated by Eneco and was developed by Ballast Nedam Industriebouw and Metso Power Oy. Also in Netherlands, the Essent power plant in Geertruidenberg co-fires 34% biomass in one of its units.

In 2015, the number of large biomass power plants in Europe continues to increase. In the UK, the £150m Rotherham Biomass Plant will use a B&W Vølund-designed multi-fuel boiler with a DynaGrate fuel combustion system, a dry flue gas desulfurization system and will burn waste wood to generate approximately 40MW of electricity. The contract to build the plant has been awarded to Interserve. The Nokianvirran Energia biomass boiler plant, Finland, will use a 68MW HYBEX boiler supplied by Valmet, including fluidized bed technology, flue gas purification equipment, and the plant's electrification and automation system. The new steam heat station will be built by Nokia.

In July 2013, RWE npower closed the 750MW biomass power station at Tilbury, UK, citing a lack of investment capacity and technical difficulties in converting the plant to use biomass in place of coal. However, work continues on the £400m, 300MW Tees Renewable Energy Plant (Tees REP) in North East England, which will generate around 2.4 TWhrs of electricity from biomass each year, enough to power 600,000 homes. It will enter commercial operation in 2016. There are also plans to convert the 400MW Lymington coal-fired power plant to biomass, with investment support from DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change). However a planned 100MW plant at Port of Blyth in Northumberland ceased development in March 2014, with RES citing inconsistent UK energy policy as a key factor.

In June 2010, the world's largest biomass co-firing project was commissioned at the Drax coal power station, which has an installed power cpacity of 4000 MWe and provides 7% of the UK's electricity. The plant aims to use 10% biomass (1.5m tonnes per year). In October 2012, Drax and Centrica cancelled plans for new biomass plants, both citing lack of government support. Drax is proceeding with a smaller £700m project that will convert half of its existing 4,000 MW coal-fired plant at Selby, North Yorkshire, to biomass. This follows a decision by the government to reduce subsidies for new-build biomass plants and instead focus on conversion of coal planbts to biomass.

In December 2013 it was announced that work will begin on a 10.3 MW biomass gasification plant in Tyseley, UK. The plant will use the biomass gasification process of the Canadian firm Nexterra Systems to convert 67,000 metric tons of locally-sourced woodwaste into power.

The Biomass CHP Plant Güssing, which started operation in 2002, has a fuel capacity of 8 MW and an electrical output of about 2 MWel with an electrical efficiency of about 25 %. Wood chips with a water content of 20 – 30 % are used as fuel. The plant consists of a dual fluidized bed steam gasifier, a two-stage gas cleaning system, a gas engine with an electricity generator, and a heat utilization system.

In Summer 2012, CHO Power completed construction of a demonstration facility in Morcenx, France to gasify 37,000 tonnes of ordinary industrial waste and 15,000 tonnes wood chips per annum, generating power for EDF.

In December 2011, CHO Power SAS (a subsidiary of Europlasma) and Sunrise Renewables announced plans to build 4 high temperature plasma gasification facilities at UK docks to convert waste wood into clean syngas. The Syngas will be cleaned further and the tar removed, prior to power production via gas engine generators.

A market study by CHO Power in 2012, estimated that by 2030 107 advanced gasification plants will need to be built in the UK as well as 126 advanced gasification plants in France to meet EU targets for renewable energy.

The demonstration plant at Skive Fjernvarme in Denmark converts wood to combined heat and power (CHP) production via gasification, generating 120k MWh of district heating and 22k MW of electricity. "A single bubbling fluidized bed (BFB) gasifier and related equipment converts wood pellets to fuel gas for three reciprocating engines in a combined heat and power (CHP) in the CHP plant. The engines generate electrical energy (two MW each) from which the heat is recovered for the community’s district heating needs. Two gas boilers in the facility can also utilize the biomass-derived gas providing additional district heat."

REACT Energy is developing two biomass gasification CHP demonstrations in Newry, Northern Ireland (2-4 MW) and Enfield, England (12 MW), with further 12MW installations planned in Plymouth and Derbyshire, UK. Gasification technology for Phase 1 of the project in Newry was provided by Zeropoint. GE Jenbacher engines are now being installed by Clarke Energy.

In March 2014, Xergi announced it will be developing the lagest biogas plant in France at Hagetmau, which each year will convert 153,000 tons of biomass to biogas, which will be used to generate 37.8 million kWh of electricity.

Biomass use in North America

At end of 2014, the US had 13,447.1 MW of biomass capacity (8,330.3 MW from wood and wood waste, 2,069.1 MW from landfill gas, 2,230.7 MW from MSW, and 817 MW from other waste biomass). A further 211.1 MW of biomass capacity is scheduled to be added in 2015 [Source: EIA]. 

In Canada, the Thunder Bay Generating Station, operated by Ontario Power Generation, will be converted from coal to biomass. The plant aims to be operational in 2015.

Use of an Externally-Fired Gas Turbine (EFTG) allows a wider range of biomass resources to be used, and has been investigated for decentralised production of power at a smaller scale. In Canada, Nexterra Systems has developed a proprietary fixed-bed, updraft gasifier for generating decentralised heat and power from biomass with high efficiency (up to 10 MW). The technology is being implemented in a number of niche projects in North America. In September 2012 a commercial demonstration of a CHP system using Nexterra's technology (with wood waste as a feedstock) was launched at the University of British Columbia. The system combines Nexterra’s gasification and conditioning technologies with a GE Jenbacher internal combustion engine.

The $2billion Clean Coal Power Initiative is (among other activities) developing IGCC technology for coal power. A number of US DoE awards were made for research into biomass-coal gasification, as well as hydrogen production.

EC projects on Bioenergy R&D&D

The successful outcome of the FP7 DEBCO project (DEmonstration of large scale Biomass Co-firing and supply chain integration, 2011-2012) provides the electricity supply industry in Europe and elsewhere with valuable, and well documented, plant experience of a number of the key technical options available for increasing the share of biomass co‐firing in large coal‐fired power plants, and for the diversification of the range of biomass feedstock types that can be co‐fired.

Also see the pages on bio-SNG and biogas for more details of relevant projects on biofuel and bioenergy production via gasification and anaerobic digestion. 

Torrefaction and related pretreatment technologies

Typically 10% of biomass can be used for co-firing [Source: IEA Clean Coal] - avoiding issues such as slagging and fouling (although these issues also depend on the feedstock type). Higher percentages of biomass in co-firing may be enabled by torrefaction [Source: Torrefaction for biomass co-firing in existing coal-fired power stations; Bergman et al 2005). Torrefaction is a thermochemical process typically at 200-350 °C in the absence of oxygen, at atmopsheric pressure with low particle heating rates and a reactor time of one hour. The process causes biomass to partly decompose, creating torrefied biomass or char, also referred to as 'biocoal'.

Biocoal has a higher energy content per unit volume, and torrefaction followed by pelletisation at the harvest sites facilitates transport over longer distances. It also avoids problems associated with decomposition of biomass during storage. Hence the benefits of torrefaction may outweigh the additional cost in many cases.

Further information is available on the torrefaction page.

History of higher efficiency power generation via gasification of biomass

Biomass integrated combined cycle gasification (BIGCC)-gas turbine technology (BIG-GT) potentially offers much higher efficiences than conventional CHP, and was investigated in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Several demonstration plants were built. However, at the current time, biomass gasification technologies for heat and power are not always considered to be competitive with combustion [Source: ThermalNet]. Find out more in the ThermalNet publication Thermal Biomass Conversion (ISBN 9781872691534).

The Värnamo plant in Sweden was the world's first IGCC plant and was designed to generate 6 MW of electricity and 9 MW of heat for district heating from wood chip. The Växjö Värnamo Biomass Gasification Centre (VVBGC) was upgraded under the EU CHRISGAS project in 2004-2010 and there were plans for it to continue as a "centre of excellence" on biomass gasification, supporting the development of industrial scale biomass gasification in Sweden. However in February 2011 funding partners withdrew.

In 2001, a demonstration plant was comissioned in Brazil with support from the EU-BRIDGE (EU-Brazil Industrial Demonstration of Gasification to Electricity) project. This demonstrated that the power output of biomass to energy plants in the Brazillian sugar industry could potentially be greatly increased via gasification. IGCC was also the basis of the Arable Biomass Renewable Energy (ARBRE) project in the UK. This project was halted due to a combination of technical and financial issues.

In the United States, several biomass gasification plants were demonstrated in the late 1990s (e.g. Vermont Gasifier). As in Europe, the technology was not commercialised at the time. However development of biomass gasification technology continues (as detailed below). See also the Bio-SNG page for details of new industrial-scale gasification projects.

Electric vehicles for road transport

There are a wide range of electric and hybrid vehicles now available across Europe. Many Member States offer tax incentives and grants to promote electric cars. For more information on electric vehicles and infrastructure in various countries, please see IEA-HEV (IEA Hybrid Electric Vehicals Implementing agreement).

European Green Cars Initiative

The European Green Cars initiative is one of the three PPPs included in the Commission's recovery package. The envelope for this initiative is foreseen at €5 billion to boost to the automotive industry in a time of economic hardship, and support the development of new, sustainable forms of road transport. Of this financial envelope, €4 billion will be made available through loans by the European Investment Bank (EIB), and €1 billion through support to research, with equal contribution from the Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7) and from the private sector.

Research on electric and hybrid vehicles, within this initative, includes:

  • High density batteries
  • Electric engines
  • Smart electricity grids and their interfaces with vehicles

Electric HGVs

In the UK, the retailer TK Maxx has introduced a small fleet of aerodynamic, battery-powered ten-tonne delivery truck has a range of over 120 miles. The retailer plans to introduce 10 further trucks to deliver to its stores in the UK, Germany and Poland. The company also uses biodiesel blends (based on WVO).

Chemrec Pitea gasification plant

© TK Maxx. For improved efficiency, the TK Maxx electric delivery lorry features the aerodynamic "teardrop design", a registered design of Don-Bur


Electrical energy generated by fossil fuels, nuclear and renewable souces (wind, solar, hydro, etc) can potentially be converted to liquid and gaseous fuels (e.g. diesel, kerosene, buanol, etc) for use in transport. Electrofuels are produced from carbon dioxide and water. For example, see ARPA-E's Electrofuels program in the U.S. (Microorganisms for Liquid Transportation Fuel). See also Sunfire, Germany, which develops systems for the production of renewable synthetic fuels (e.g. methane gas, diesel or kerosene) using regenerative electricity (recycling).

Bioenergy and Carbon Capture and Storage

The concept of Bioenergy and Carbon Storage (Bio-CCS or BECCS) has been suggested as a means of producing carbon negative power (i.e. removing carbon dioxide from the atmopshere via biomass conversion technologies and storage underground). Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is currently at a demonstration phase, and current research is focused on reducing the costs of CCS so that it can be applied to a new generation of clean coal power stations. However, CCS could potentially be appled to a wider range of energy plants, including those incorporating co-firing or co-gasification of sustainable biomass feedstocks (agricultural and wood wastes and energy crops), or even 100% biomass energy plants, biofuel production facilities or biorefineries.

The potential for future synergies between CCS and bioenergy/biofuels production is the focus of the Bio-CCS Joint Task Force led by the Zero Emissions Platform with contributions by EBTP.

Further information on Bio-CCS

Bioelectricity vs. Biofuels?

A widely publicised study by the University of California published in Science in May 2009 suggested that bioelectricity produces an average 81% more transportation km and 108% more emissions offsets per unit area crop land than cellulosic ethanol.

These findings do not address the issue that electricity needs to be stored in batteries, which currently have limited capacity or the requirements for upgrading of the electricity infrastructure to enable large scale recharging of electric vehicles at regular intervals (or in millions of homes overnight). However, electric vehicles and electrified public transport may be the preferred option for urban transport strategies, where journeys are much shorter and where local congestion and air quality issues are also important considerations. Electricty is not an option for aviation, which requires liquid fuels.

A wide range of advanced technologies are being developed for second generation biofuels. However, as these are not yet widely available at commercial scale, any direct comparison of bioelectricity with current 2G biofuels may be considered as premature. However, it is clear that advanced biofuels and plug-in and hybrid vehicles will have a vital role to play in the future of sustainable transport in Europe.