Availability of renewable energy sources at risk

According to a new study, climate change threatens the availability of biomass fuels and technologies, which are crucial substitutes for fossil fuels.

Biomass energy is made from plants, wood and waste. Image credit: University of York.

Research has found that as temperatures rise, the opportunity to make the most of wood, plant and waste biomass as a renewable energy source and substitute for petrochemicals is slowly winding down.

In a study conducted at the universities of york and Fudan in China, scientists explored the sustainability of biomass use. Details of the study were reported in the journal Nature.

Scientists have learned that unless serious action is taken to reduce fossil fuels in support of bioenergy and other renewables, climate change will reduce crop yields, limiting accessibility to raw materials from the biomass.

Scientists say declining food production is also likely to encourage the expansion of cropland, increase greenhouse gas emissions from land-use change and further accelerate the rate of climate change.


Biomass fuels and feedstocks offer a renewable source of energy and a viable alternative to petrochemicals, but the results of our study are a stark warning of how climate change will put their availability at risk if we continue to let global temperatures rise.

James Clark, Study Co-Author and Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of York

“There is a tipping point where climate change will severely hamper our ability to mitigate its worst effects. Biomass with carbon capture and storage, including the manufacture of bio-based chemicals, must be used now if we are to maximize its benefit. », Added James Clark.

In a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and several climate mitigation assessments, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) has been identified as an important part of the strategy. to achieve the goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

To compromise

Scientists used international data to model responses of crop yields to average growing temperatures, nitrogen fertilization intensity, atmospheric CO2 concentration and precipitation. They learned that if the shift to BECCS was late in the second half of this century, biomass production would be essentially reduced by climate change, leading to failure to meet the 2°C target and jeopardizing the global food security.

For example, when BECCS is delayed from 2040 to 2060, scientists found that reducing agricultural residue yields for biomass technologies would reduce the capacity of BECCS. This would trigger an increase in global warming of 1.7 to 3.7°C by 2200, with a drop in the global average daily crop calories per capita from 2.1 million calories to 1.5 million calories. .

The scientists explain that in this situation, the scale of food trade would have to increase by 80% compared to 2019 levels to avoid extreme food shortages in many parts of the developing world most affected by climate change.


If biomass-based negative carbon mitigation technologies could be widely deployed in the near term, there is still hope that we could mitigate global warming and a global food crisis.

James Clark, Study Co-Author and Professor, Department of Chemistry, University of York

This study was conducted by an international group of researchers in China, the United Kingdom and Spain.

Journal reference:

Xu, S. et al. (2022) Late use of bioenergy crops could threaten climate and food security. Nature. doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-05055-8.

Source: https://www.york.ac.uk

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