What is Bioenergy?

Bioenergy production and use occurs along a continuum of scale:

  • At one end of the spectrum is household use of biomass for heat and cooking. New technologies are enabling more efficient use of a wider variety of biomass types for these and other uses.
  • In the middle section of the spectrum are numerous production and distribution arrangements and organization types, including mixed-scale operations, cooperatives, and community-based  or small-scale distributed energy projects.
  • At the other end of the bioenergy production spectrum are large transnational energy companies who own the means of biomass production and conversion, as well as the means of distribution of bioenergy products.  At this end of the spectrum utility companies take advantage of economies of scale to acquire vast quantities of biomass either from their own lands or lands they lease, or from large-scale suppliers, and then convert the biomass into bioenergy and make it available for thousands if not millions of consumers.

There are economic and societal benefits and disadvantages associated with different scales of bioenergy production and use.  Trade-offs among these benefits and disadvantages often occur.

Figure 1.2 Bioenergy conversion pathways. (C.L. Williams after Baye, 2010)

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