Tractpr harvesting biomass in Germany.

This is a single-pass, cut-and-chip harvester reaping fast-growing willow for a carbon-neutral biomass plant, part of Germany’s Energiewende or “energy turnaround.” Germany currently produces over 30 percent of its energy from wood, but when the total cost of harvesting and processing wood is calculated, it is not carbon neutral. The industry exists because of significant government subsidies.

Biomass Power

Biomass feedstock can replace fossil fuels for generating heat and electricity. Perennial biomass offers a “bridge” to a clean, renewable energy future.

Reduce SourcesElectricityShift Production
2.62 to 3.59
CO2 Equivalent
56.48 to 69.24
Billion US$
Net First Cost
To Implement
218.83 to 287.99
Billion US$
Lifetime Net
Operational Savings
Research Fellows: Karan Gupta, Ashok Mangotra, Noorie Rajvanshi; Senior Fellow: João Pedro Gouveia; Senior Director: Chad Frischmann

What You Can Do

  • If you own farmland, look into the pros and cons of producing perennial biomass for fuel.

  • Share this page with your local utility or a nonprofit organization promoting biomass energy.

  • Expand your knowledge by exploring another Drawdown solution.


This analysis assumes all biomass used for electricity generation is derived from perennial bioenergy feedstocks—not forests, annuals, or waste—and replaces conventional coal, oil, and natural gas. By 2050, biomass power could avoid 2.62–3.59 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions with associated marginal first costs of US$56.48–69.24 billion. As clean wind and solar power combined with energy storage become more available in a flexible grid, the need for biomass power may decline in some regions.


Project Drawdown’s Biomass Power solution involves the use of perennial biomass to generate electricity and heat. Biomass energy trades in carbon that is already in circulation, cycling from atmosphere to plants and back again. It produces net-zero new emissions, so long as use and replenishment remain in balance. This solution replaces conventional electricity-generating technologies such as coal, oil, and natural gas power plants.

Perennials are generally defined as plants that live three or more years. Various life-cycle assessments (Searchinger et al., 2008; DeCicco et al., 2016) have shown that annual bioenergy crops such as corn are not much better than fossil fuel energy sources in terms of climate and energy impacts. Perennial grasses, on the other hand, have naturally high productivity, need fewer chemicals and water, and are not food crops; hence, many governments are choosing them as future energy farming systems (El Bassam, 2010).


This analysis focused on perennial biomass power. It modeled both woody and herbaceous plants as the main source of feedstock for dedicated electricity generation and combined heat and power generation.

Total Addressable Market

We based the total addressable market for the Biomass Power solution on projected global electricity generation from 2020 to 2050. The total addressable market is different for our two adoption scenarios because Scenario 2 projects extensive electrification of transportation, space heating, etc., dramatically increasing demand and therefore production of electricity worldwide.

We estimated current adoption (the amount of functional demand supplied in 2018) at 0.28 percent of generation (73 terawatt-hours). We derived this number from solid biofuels and bagasse data (IRENA, 2018), attributing 20.2 percent perennials based on a meta-analysis of data from several sources (El Bassam, 2010; NREL, 2011; Turconi et al., 2013).

Adoption Scenarios

We calculated impacts of increased adoption of biomass power from 2020 to 2050 by comparing two growth scenarios with a reference scenario in which the market share was fixed at current levels.

  • Scenario 1: This scenario follows a medium growth trajectory derived from the biomass and waste electricity generation projections of IEA (2017) Energy Technology Perspectives 2DS and B2DS scenarios; IEA (2018) World Energy Outlook SDS; and Equinor (2018) renewal scenario using a medium growth trajectory. The solution accounts for 498.93 terawatt-hours of generation (1 percent of the total addressable market).
  • Scenario 2: This scenario takes a high growth adoption trajectory from the same scenarios and sources. The solution accounts for 607.62 terawatt-hours of generation (1 percent of the total addressable market).

Financial Model

All monetary values are presented in 2014 US$.

We used many peer-reviewed sources to determine capital and operating costs. We based emissions estimates on a few studies that focused on electricity production from perennial feedstock such as miscanthus and willow short-rotation coppice. We assumed an average installation cost of US$3,386 per kilowatt with a learning rate of 7.6 percent, reducing the cost to US$2,928 per kilowatt in 2030 and US$2,723 in 2050, compared with a weighted average of US$1,786 per kilowatt for conventional fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil. We used an average capacity factor of 69 percent, compared with 57 percent for conventional fuels. Operation and maintenance costs were US$0.012 per kilowatt-hour and fixed costs, US$91.39 per kilowatt, compared with US$0.005 and US$34.7, respectively, for conventional fuels. We used an average fuel cost for biomass of US$0.0143 per kilowatt-hour, compared with US$0.049 for a weighted average of the conventional fuels.


In integrating biomass with other solutions, we adjusted the market for electricity generation technologies to account for reduced demand resulting from the growth of energy-efficient technologies (e.g., LED Lighting and High-Efficiency Heat Pumps) and increased electrification from other solutions such as Electric Cars and High-Speed Rail. We based grid emissions factors on the annual mix of electricity-generating technologies over time. We based emissions factors for each technology on a meta-analysis of multiple sources, including both direct and indirect emissions.

A straightforward comparison of our adoption and emissions results with those of other models is not possible because others use aggregate numbers for biomass and waste.


Net first costs to implement Scenario 1 are US$56.48 billion from 2020 to 2050, with US$218.83 billion in lifetime savings. Under this scenario, this solution could reduce 2.62 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 to 2050.

Net first costs to implement Scenario 2 are US$69.24 billion from 2020 to 2050, with US$287.99 billion in lifetime savings. Scenario 2 reduces greenhouse gas emissions reductions over 2020–2050 by 3.59 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent.


Biomass energy is a “bridge” solution—one that can complement wind and solar power until energy storage grows and the grid becomes more flexible. It is crucial to manage the drawbacks of biomass energy through regulation.

While the carbon savings from biomass power may not be tremendous, the modeling did not account for technologies that include carbon capture and storage. Despite the robust adoption projections available for total biomass and waste, the wide array of electricity-generating technologies and biomass fuels and unknowns related to the share of perennial crops used bring significant uncertainty.


DeCicco, J., Danielle, M., Liu, Y., Heo, J, Krishnan, R., Kurthen, A., & Wang, L. (2016). Carbon Balance Effects of U.S. Biofuel Production and Use. Climatic Change 138 (3–4): 667–80. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1764-4

El Bassam, N. (2010). Handbook of Bioenergy Crops: A Complete Reference to Species, Development and Applications. London ; Washington: Earthscan.

Equinor. (2018). Energy Perspectives 2018, Long-term macro and market outlook. Equinor. Retrieved from:

IEA. (2017a). Energy Technology Perspectives 2017 : Catalysing energy technology transformations. International Energy Agency. Paris. Retrieved from :

IEA. (2017b). Technology Roadmap: Delivering Sustainable Bioenergy. Paris: International Energy Agency.

IEA. (2017c). IEA Bioenergy Response to Chatham House report “Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate”. Retrieved from

IEA. (2018). World Energy Outlook 2018. International Energy Agency (IEA). Retrieved from:

IRENA. (2018). Renewable Energy Statistics 2018; Retrieved on 15 November 2018 from Abu Dhabi: IRENA.

IRENA. (2018a). Global Energy Transformation : A Roadmap to 2050; Retrieved on 15 November 2018 from

IRENA. (2018b). Power Generation Costs in 2017; retrieved on 25 November 2018 from Abu Dhabi: IRENA.

IRENA. (2018c). IRENA : Renewable Energy Topic; featured Dashboard. Retrieved from:

IRENA. (2019). Global energy transformation: The REmap transition pathway (Background report to 2019 edition), International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi.

NREL. (2011). Life Cycle Assessment Harmonization. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Retrieved from:

Searchinger, T., Heimlich, R.,Houghton, R.A., Dong,F., Elobeid, A., Fabiosa, J. Tokgoz, S.,Hayes, D. & Yu, T.H. (2008). Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases Through Emissions from Land-Use Change. Science 319 (5867): 1238–40. doi:10.1126/science.1151861.

Turconi, R., Alessio, B. & Thomas, A. (2013). Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of Electricity Generation Technologies: Overview, Comparability and Limitations. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews 28 (December): 555–65. doi:10.1016/j.rser.2013.08.013.

What You Can Do

  • If you own farmland, look into the pros and cons of producing perennial biomass for fuel.

  • Share this page with your local utility or a nonprofit organization promoting biomass energy.

  • Expand your knowledge by exploring another Drawdown solution.