Advantages and Disadvantages of Biomass

From energypedia


  • Every person needs food to sustain their lives. The vast majority of staple foods, 95%[1], need cooking before they can be eaten and most people cook 2-3 times per day, EVERY day.
  • Worldwide, about 2.9[1] billion people use biomass fuels for cooking. These fuels include firewood, charcoal, dung, and agricultural residues.
  • Cooking energy accounts for about 90% of all household energy consumption in developing countries.
  • Frequently, biomass fuels are the only available energy source, especially in rural areas. In most Sub-Saharan countries, more than 80% of the population depend on biomass fuels for their daily cooking.[2]
  • Despite massive efforts aimed at substitution and electrification, the number of people relying on biomass is decreasing only slightly. It is estimated that by 2030, 2.52 billion people will still cook with biomass.[3]
  • Despite the important role of biomass for cooking, it is considered 'dirty' and 'backward' and seldom associated with 'modern energy'. Yet, biomass is here to stay.

Advantages of Biomass

  • Biomass is a renewable source of energy - if produced in a sustainable manner. Efficient planting guarantees that supply meets demand.
  • In most regions of the world, people use wood or some form of biomass fuel. With the right stove, the majority of these fuels can be burned without further processing.
  • Usually biomass fuels are easily accessible. Collecting firewood seems to be cheaper than alternative fuels such as gas, paraffin, and electricity. Thus, biomass fuels are more affordable to the poor.
  • Biomass is within reach of users. Users do not depend on providers, utilities or imports as for fossil fuels.
  • Fuel preparation behaviour is often more important in reducing emissions than the technology itself.

Disadvantages of Biomass

  • Biomass fuels are mainly burned on inefficient open fires and traditional stoves.
  • In many cases, the demand for biomass fuels far outweighs sustainable supply. This can contribute to deforestation, land degradation and desertification.
  • Unclean burning leads to emissions.
  • Dwindling resources lead to an additional workload for women and children as they have to spend more time searching for firewood. The fuel they find is often of a lower grade and thus burns with more smoke and less heat.
  • Every year, the smoke from open fires and traditional stoves - leading to Indoor Air Pollution (IAP) - kills about 4.3 million people.[4] Thus, every 8 seconds, someone (mostly women and children) is dying due to inefficient use of biomass fuel.
  • Fuelwood is often collected on a daily basis and has no time to dry before use. This makes the use less efficient as some heat is wasted to drive the moisture out of the wood. Moist fuel results in more smoke.


  1. Source: UN SE4All Global Tracking Framework Report 2015
  2. OECD/IEA (2014): World Energy Outlook 2014
  3. Source: OECD/IEA (2013): World Energy Outlook 2013.
  4. WHO: Household air pollution and health. Fact sheet N°292, updated Feb 2016;