Innovations in biomass energy for renewable local energy provision and legitimate income generation

January 2010 to December 2012

This project explored how to optimise the contribution of woody biomass to renewable energy provision and legitimate commercial income generation

Woody biomass has many advantages: it is usually widely available at all times, is increasingly convertible into all major energy forms (liquid, gas, heat and electricity), and is readily carbon neutral or even a carbon sink, with the potential to restore unproductive degraded lands and enhance agricultural productivity.

As a result it is the predominant form of rural energy in most least developed countries, so IIED studied how its contribution to renewable energy provision and legitimate commercial income generation could be optimised.


Strategic reviews by IIED's forest team in association with Southern partners identified the increasing importance of energy security as an issue - and the contribution that good forest governance can make towards that end. IIED has solid past work experience with partners on policy and practice issues associated with biomass energy (fuel wood, charcoal and liquid biofuels).

This project's aim was to provide space to explore the literature and scope with partners in three countries the technological, market and political economy drivers that encourage or constrain the use of biomass as a renewable energy source and an opportunity for local income generation. The project assembled knowledge on recent innovations or established best practice in the supply of biomass and biofuels both on the technological and business side.

What IIED did

IIED published several reports as part of this project aiming to develop a South-South-North partnership to reshape the impact of a predicted large-scale expansion in global biomass energy use towards greater poverty reduction and maintenance of ecosystem services in developing countries.

Few energy planners, development banks and policy makers treat biomass as a legitimate form of energy, despite it being the principal source of energy in developing countries and regardless of its importance in their economies, especially the household, industrial and service sectors.

A principal cause of global warming is the increased use of fossil fuels. And the recent dramatic price rises in fossil fuels make them a volatile and insecure energy source. Therefore, rather than promoting energy policies based on fossil fuels, improving end-use efficiency, encouraging conservation and making renewable biomass more convenient are the most sensible strategies to pursue.

Biomass energy forms an important part of the UK renewable energy portfolio in helping to achieve national carbon reductions. In 2007, it made up 3% of the total UK energy supply and this figure is set to rise, with biomass energy due to make up just under a third of the 2020 UK renewable energy target.

There are many lessons that can be drawn from the UK for application in developing countries; such as the wide variety of employment opportunities offered through biomass energy, the importance of sufficient support for sustainable supply chain development, the need for good government coordination, and finally, the development of a coherent biomass strategy.

Additional resources

Can biomass power development?, Keith Openshaw (2010), Report

The UK's biomass energy development path, Sibel Korhaliller (2010), Report

Biomass energy use in Kenya, Tameezan Gathui, Fridah Mugo (2010), Report

Mapping out global biomass projections, technological developments and policy innovations, Mairi Black, Goetz M. Richter (2010), report

Bioenergy in India, Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) (2010), Report





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