Project Drawdown defines biomass power as the use of perennial biomass feedstock for dedicated electricity generation and combined heat and power generation. This solution replaces conventional electricity-generating technologies such as coal, oil, and natural gas power plants.
Considering their variety of potential uses, it is important to consider the development and deployment of perennial crops as an alternative to annual bioenergy crops. Perennials are generally defined by their lifetime of three or more years. Various life-cycle assessment studies (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 worldwide are choosing them as future energy farming systems (El Bassam, 2010).
This analysis focuses on perennial biomass power. It models both woody and herbaceous plants as the main source of feedstock for dedicated electricity generation and combined heat and power generation.
Total Addressable Market
Two total addressable markets were developed for this sector solution, supported on lower and higher climate emissions mitigation targets linked to different levels of electricity demand and renewable energy sources integration. The total addressable market for electricity generation technologies using perennial crops as feedstock is based on estimated global electricity generation from 2020 to 2050. Current adoption is estimated at 0.28 percent of generation (73 terawatt-hours). This number is derived from solid biofuels and bagasse data (IRENA), applying a factor of 20.2 percent obtained through a meta-analysis of data from several sources (El Bassam, 2010; NREL, 2011; Turconi et al., 2013).
Impacts of increased adoption of biomass power from 2020 to 2050 were generated based on two growth scenarios. These were assessed in comparison with a Reference Scenario, in which the solution’s market share was fixed at the 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 share of biomass from these values is estimated to be 77.8 percent, of which 20.2 percent is assumed to use perennial biomass as a feedstock. This scenario results in a 1.1 percent market share for biomass power within the electricity-generation technologies mix in 2050.
- Scenario 2: This scenario takes a high growth adoption trajectory from the same above-mentioned scenarios and sources. This scenario accounts for 0.86 percent share of the electricity generation portfolio in 2050 under a significantly higher total addressable market.
Financial assumptions for biomass power were used from many peer-reviewed sources to determine capital and operating costs. Emissions were estimated based on a few studies that focused on electricity production from perennial feedstock such as miscanthus and willow short-rotation coppice. The financial inputs used in the model assume an average installation cost of US$3386 per kilowatt with a learning rate of 7.6 percent, reducing the cost to US$2928 per kilowatt in 2030 and to US$2723 in 2050. This is compared with a weighted average of US$1786 per kilowatt for conventional technologies such as coal, natural gas, and oil power plants. An average capacity factor of 69 percent was used for the solution, compared with 57 percent for conventional technologies. Variable operation and maintenance costs of US$0.012 per kilowatt-hour and of US$91.39 per kilowatt for fixed costs are considered for biomass power technologies, compared to US$0.005 and US$34.7, respectively, for the conventional technologies. An average fuel cost used in the modelling for the biomass plants is US$0.0143 per kilowatt-hour, compared with US$0.049 per kilowatt-hour for an weighted average of the conventional fuels.
Through the process of integrating biomass with other solutions, the market for electricity generation technologies was adjusted to account for reduced demand resulting from the growth of more energy-efficient technologies, as well as increased electrification from other solutions such as electric cars and high-speed rail. Grid emissions factors were calculated based on the annual mix of different electricity-generating technologies over time. Emissions factors for each technology were determined through a meta-analysis of multiple sources, accounting for direct and indirect emissions.
A straightforward comparison of the adoption and emissions results with other sources is not possible, due to the specificities of the feedstock considered herein, since all other global energy system models consider aggregate numbers for biomass and waste.
The results for Scenario 1 show that the marginal first costs compared to the Reference Scenario would be US$51.1 billion from 2020 to 2050, with nearly US$216 billion in lifetime savings from the electricity-generating biomass power plants installed in the same period. Increasing the use of this solution from approximately 0.28 percent in 2018 to 1.1 percent of world electricity generation by 2050 would require an estimated US$250.9 billion in cumulative first costs. Under Scenario 1, this solution could reduce 2.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from 2020 to 2050, compared with the Reference Scenario.
Scenario 2 assumes an higher growth of perennial biomass for generation technologies, with impacts on greenhouse gas emissions reductions over 2020–2050 of 3.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide-equivalent.
Bearing in mind the portfolio of other renewable energy technologies available, around 1 percent of electricity generation from perennial feedstocks for biomass power in 2050 still comprises a significant portion of global electricity demand. While the carbon savings may not be tremendous, the modelling did not account for electricity generation technologies with carbon capture and storage. Despite the robust adoption projections for total biomass and waste, the mix of electricity-generating technologies (co-firing or dedicated biomass, pure electricity or co-generation) or fuels (wood pellets, agricultural residues, municipal solid waste, synthetic gas, biogas), and the share of perennial crops used, bring significant levels of uncertainty.