UC Davis

Public Outreach

What is Bioenergy?

Bioenergy is energy contained in living or recently living biological organisms, a definition which specifically excludes fossil fuels. Plants get bioenergy through photosynthesis, and animals get it by consuming plants. Organic material containing bioenergy is known as biomass. Humans can use this biomass in many different ways, through something as simple as burning wood for heat, or as complex as genetically modifying bacteria to create cellulosic ethanol. Since almost all bioenergy can be traced back to energy from sunlight, bioenergy has the major advantage of being a renewable energy source. However, it is important that bioenergy be harnessed in a sustainable fashion. A specific plant or substance used for bioenergy is called a feedstock. Feedstocks are usually converted into a more easily usable form, usually a liquid fuel.

Types of Bioenergy

Liquid biofuels

Liquid biofuels have attracted much attention and investment because they can be used to replace or supplement traditional petroleum-based transportation fuels and can be used in existing vehicles with little or no modification to engines and fueling systems. They can also be used for heating and electricity production. Large quantities of liquid biofuels are presently used in many countries, and the potential exists to greatly expand their use in the future. The two most common kinds of liquid biofuels are ethanol and biodiesel, but a range of other liquid fuels exist or are being developed.

Solid biofuels

Solid biofuels include wood, manure or charcoal burned as fuel as well as more recent innovations like high-density clean burning pellets. Solid biomass can be burned for heat or to produce electricity either by itself or as part of a co-firing power plant.

Visit the Department of Energy's Open Energy Information website for more.
Contact John Labavich for further information.