The crucial factor for the economics of using biomass for energy is the cost of the feedstock, which today ranges from a negative for waste wood (based on credit for waste disposal costs avoided) through inexpensive residual materials to the more expensive energy crops. The resulting spectrum of energy generation costs is correspondingly broad. One of the most economic options is the use of waste wood in steam turbine combined heat and power (CHP) plants. Gasification of solid biomass, on the other hand, which has a wide range of applications, is still relatively expensive. In the long term it is expected that using wood gas both in micro CHP units (engines and fuel cells) and in gas-and-steam power plants will have the most favourable electricity production costs. Converting crops into ethanol and ‘bio diesel’ made from rapeseed methyl ester (RME) has become increasingly important in recent years, for example in Brazil, the USA and Europe – although its climate benefit is disputed. Processes for obtaining synthetic fuels from biogenic synthesis gases will also play a larger role.
A large potential for exploiting modern technologies exists in Latin and North America, Europe and Eurasia, either in stationary appliances or the transport sector. In the long term, OECD Europe and Eastern Europe/Eurasia could realise 20-50% of the potential for biomass from energy crops, whilst biomass use in all the other regions will have to rely on forest residues, industrial wood waste and straw. In Latin America, North America and Africa in particular, an increasing residue potential will be available.
In other regions, such as the Middle East and all Asian regions, increased use of biomass is restricted, either due to a generally low availability or already high traditional use. For the latter, using modern, more efficient technologies will improve the sustainability of current usage and will have positive side effects, such as reducing indoor pollution and heavy workloads currently associated with traditional biomass use.