Most biomass energy is derived from organic resources such as trees, straw, algae, soybeans, and other agricultural goods. This form of energy has been utilized since ancient times, dating back to the discovery of fire by early humans.

1. The emergence of biomass energy

As human civilization progressed, the discovery of energy from fossil resources marked the beginning of an industrial revolution that propelled the world forward. Fossil energy became an indispensable element in production. However, as humanity confronted environmental changes and the gradual depletion of resources, biomass energy resurfaced as a new solution, a modern energy source for future sustainability.


In fact, "biomass existed before humans", the history of biomass dates back to ancient times, persisting throughout human development. Biomass energy has remained present in all aspects of societal life, even in the pursuit of clean energy sources. Biomass and bioenergy have played a fundamental role, accounting for 98% of the renewable energy humans have utilized throughout history.

Biomass is not a recent discovery as an alternative energy source. It has existed long before humans inhabited the Earth. When humans emerged, they began utilizing biomass as an energy source. There is ample evidence indicating that biomass has been used as an energy supply from 230,000 to 1.5 million years ago.


2. Biomass Energy Development Phases

2.1 Ancient Times

The first way to use biomass as a source of energy was to use fire to burn it. Humans exploited biomass products by burning branches, dried grass, and wood for heating, illumination, driving out dangerous animals, or ripening food.

Since ancient times, biomass energy has primarily been used for heating and cooking. In ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Babylon, and Greece, people used straw to burn fires in ceramic furnaces and burned wood for steel production. The history of biomass energy underwent significant changes around the 1800s.


2.2 The 19th Century

During the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, biomass remained the primary energy source for human heat provision. However, with industrial development and increased energy demands, fossil resources became the predominant energy source in most countries. Biomass energy during this period saw more modern applications than mere combustion.


- In reality, natural ethanol has been known and used long before synthetic methods were developed. Natural ethanol is typically produced through the fermentation process of sugars or various grains. Although the art of distilling alcohol developed in the 12th century, it wasn't until the early 19th century that scientists began to study the fermentation process for converting biological resources into ethanol.

- In 1826, Samuel Morey invented the internal combustion engine, which could run on ethanol and turpentine. This engine powered a small boat upstream in America.

- In 1857, French chemist Louis Pasteur discovered the fermentation process, the main pathway for ethanol production.

- Since then, bioethanol production technology has undergone much research and development, ethanol has been used for cooking and lighting and has become an important part of today's renewable energy industry.


Biofuels (Vegetable Oil and Fish Oil)

- As humans explored ethanol's potential as an energy alternative, they also considered using vegetable and fish oils for heating and lighting. Many ancient civilizations like Egypt and Sumer utilized various vegetable and animal oils for heat and light production.

- Vegetable oil, primarily extracted from plants such as palm, sunflower, and rapeseed, has been used since ancient times for cooking and cosmetic production. Meanwhile, fish oil, extracted from fish or other seafood, has also been used early on as a reserve energy source due to its effectiveness in producing heat and light when burned. Both oils played crucial roles in providing energy for ancient civilizations and later evolved to become indispensable parts of the modern energy industry.



- From the 1700s to the 1960s, rosin was a valuable renewable resource. Before oil was discovered, rosin played an important role in the economy and competition between countries.

- In its crude form, rosin was used in shipbuilding. When distilled, rosin yielded highly valuable chemicals at that time.

- Rosin was also widely used as a substitute energy source for lamp oil. Before crude oil became widespread, rosin lamp oil was the primary light source, improving living and working conditions during the night.


2.3 The 20th Century

In the 20th century, biomass energy significantly evolved in providing energy for people. Initially, power plants used biomass energy for electricity generation. Subsequently, other applications of biomass energy were discovered, including biofuel production, biodiesel production, biogas production, and electricity generation from combined solar, wind, and biomass energy.


In the early 1900s, a notable turning point in the history of bioenergy occurred when biofuels regained popularity. The rise of the automotive industry and the impact of wars created resource scarcity, prompting automobile manufacturers to reintroduce bioenergy. The first production all-ethanol car was the Fiat 147, introduced in 1978 in Brazil by Fiat.


Renewable energy projects at that time held great potential. However, commercialization and large-scale exploitation pushed coal and crude oil to the forefront of the energy sector. Fossil fuels were chosen in most countries and held the top position in energy consumption until the 1970s.

The geopolitical tensions of the 1970s led to a fuel crisis, prompting the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to reduce oil exports. This crisis spurred widespread exploration of renewable energy alternatives. Advances in green energy, including solar panel technology, geothermal power plants, offshore wind farms, and hydroelectricity, were applied. During this period, scientists adopted a systematic approach to energy issues and introduced the term "biomass" into the lexicon.


Over time, environmental concerns and climate change related to fossil fuel pollution became increasingly urgent, elevating the importance of bioenergy.

3. Biomass energy in the modern world

Biomass energy is a significant renewable energy source in the world today. Biomass contributes 6% of the global energy supply across all sectors, which is five times higher than the combined wind and solar energy. The biomass resources on the green planet are assessed with the following metrics:

  • Total living matter (including moisture): 2,000 billion tons
  • Total land-based vegetation: 1,800 billion tons
  • Total forest mass: 1,600 billion tons
  • Energy stored by biomass on land: 25,000 EJ
  • Global biomass growth per year: 400 billion tons/year
  • Energy storage of biomass on land: 3000 EJ/year (equivalent to 95 TW)
  • Total consumption of all energy types: 400 EJ/year (equivalent to 12 TW)
  • Biomass energy consumption: 55 EJ/year (1.7 TW)

Thus, in terms of biomass potential, just the annual renewable biomass amount is tens of times higher than the total output of fossil fuel extraction. Current technology only allows the use of over 1.8% of renewable biomass.


The world's annual biomass output from wild plant development is estimated at around 146 billion tons. Biomass accounts for 35% of primary energy consumption in developing countries and 14% of global primary energy consumption.

The total global biomass supply from agriculture and forestry is estimated at 11.9 billion tons of dry matter annually, with 61% produced from agriculture and 39% from forestry. Of this:

  • 55%: Livestock feed and food production
  • 27%: Bioenergy production
  • 8%: Bio-based materials
  • 10%: Energy loss


With the economic and social development, various machinery and electrical equipment have greatly contributed to increasing productivity and saving human labor. For these machines to operate efficiently, electrical energy is indispensable. The importance of electrical power continues to rise, driving the development of biomass electricity. The United States is the world's largest producer of biomass electricity with hundreds of bioelectric plants producing thousands of MW of electricity each year. Biomass energy is estimated to account for 4% of total energy consumption in the US and 45% of renewable energy consumption.


4. The Promising Role of Biomass in the Context of Future Energy

4.1 Clean Energy Source Aimed at Net-Zero

Faced with the urgent climate change warnings, the most pressing issue of our time, governments worldwide have collectively joined a legally binding agreement to restrain global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius under the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris.

In implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change, at the Conference of the Parties (COP26), a coalition comprising an increasing number of countries, cities, businesses, and organizations, including the world's largest polluters like China, the United States, and the European Union, have set targets to reduce global emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050.


The green transition trend, focusing on shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy forms, is a fierce race among nations aiming for Net Zero. In the future, biomass is predicted to play a crucial role in providing sustainable energy, whether in electricity generation, heating, or transportation fuel. Biomass's carbon neutrality brings significant potential.

According to estimates by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the contribution of biomass energy to energy and raw material demand will triple by 2030. Biomass is projected to supply 17% of the total final energy consumption by 2050 across all sectors.

4.2 Challenges to the Sustainability of Biomass


However, for biomass energy to become a sustainable renewable energy source, it must be managed sustainably. Countries need to establish a comprehensive legal framework that integrates biomass production and consumption. Regulations must be carefully designed to promote sustainability and minimize negative environmental impacts.

Practical, feasible, and context-specific solutions need to be prepared for each regional context, geographic location, and social conditions, as well as the political and legal capacities of the locality for potential adverse scenarios: land competition, emissions due to land use changes, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and air pollution.

Additionally, appropriate, clearly targeted, long-term strategic policies are needed to encourage financial investment, infrastructure development, research support, and technology application in future biomass energy development projects.

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