The availability of wood, and its potential as a biofuel to substitute for oil in the future, is unevenly distributed throughout the world (Figure 9). Global industrial roundwood production was about 1.7 billion cubic metres in 2005, compared with fuelwood production of approximately 1.8 billion cubic metres (FAO, 2007c). About 65 percent of global industrial roundwood was produced in industrialized countries, compared with only about 13 percent of fuelwood. The largest producers of fuelwood are India (306 million cubic metres), China (191 million cubic metres) and Brazil (138 million cubic metres). Production of fuelwood is significant in only a few industrialized countries including the United States, Mexico, Finland, Sweden and Austria among others. There are, however, problems with data availability, and household surveys of fuelwood-use have shown considerable consumption in several other industrialised countries (Steierer et al., 2007).
The vast majority of fuelwood is still produced and consumed locally. Since fuelwood is mainly used in private households and is often traded informally, it is difficult to collect good country-level data. Many other caveats apply to the accuracy and availability of statistics on woodfuel (Box 3).
Historically, wood has been the most important source of bioenergy. Wood has been used for cooking and heating since the discovery of fire. In developing countries, it is also used in commercial applications such as fish drying, tobacco curing and brick baking. In developed countries, it is predominantly used for energy generation in the forest industry.
In recent years, wood energy has attracted attention as an environmentally friendly alternative to fossil energy, and investments have been made to improve efficiency, especially in relation to industrial applications, for heat and power generation. Changes in energy policy in several parts of the world have favoured the development of wood energy-based systems. New technologies are improving the economic feasibility of energy generation from wood, particularly in countries that are heavily forested and have well established wood processing industries.
In absolute terms, the largest OECD users of wood for industrial bioenergy by volume are the United States, Canada, Sweden and Finland. Most forest biomass used for energy in these countries is recovered from indirect sources, including black liquor from wood pulping and other wood residues (Steierer et al., 2007). Industrial applications accounted for just over 50 percent of total bioenergy-use in each of these countries.
Fuelwood is the predominant form of wood energy in rural areas of most developing countries, while charcoal remains a significant energy source in many African, Asian and Latin American urban households. Developing countries account for almost 90 percent of the world’s woodfuel (fuelwood and charcoal) consumption and wood is still the primary source of energy for cooking and heating in developing countries (Broadhead, Bahdon and Whiteman, 2001). Over the last 15 years global consumption of woodfuel has remained relatively stable, at between 1.8 and 1.9 billion cubic metres.
Figure 10 shows woodfuel consumption for OECD and non-OECD country groups between 1990 and 2030. The global trend indicates increasing consumption of woodfuel, largely a reflection of increasing consumption in Africa. Non-OECD countries in Asia and Oceania are, in contrast, showing a downward trend as rapid increases in income occur and urbanization takes place. Future consumption in OECD European countries is expected to be greater than shown in Figure 11 due to recent EU plans to increase the proportion of renewables in total energy use to 20 percent by 2020 (European Union, 2007).
Recent surveys have also found that woodfuel consumption is considerably above previous estimates in several industrialised countries (Steierer et al., 2007). Figures shown for OECD countries are therefore probably towards the lower-end of the likely range.
Per capita woodfuel consumption (Figure 11) indicates differing trends in total consumption. In all regions of the world, except Asian OECD countries and Oceania, per capita consumption is decreasing as a result of rising incomes, urbanization, declining availability of wood sources and increasing availability of alternative sources of energy preferred to woodfuel. Despite this trend, total woodfuel consumption is increasing in African and in non-OECD countries in the Americas because of population growth.
Estimates of wood use in Africa show the vast majority of removals are for fuelwood and that the quantities consumed in industrial applications are relatively insignificant everywhere except in Southern Africa (Figure 12). Fuelwood use is increasing in all Africa’s regions, although at a diminishing rate.
According to data collated by IEA (2006) the number of people using biomass resources as their primary fuel for cooking will increase (Table 4). Considerable increases are expected in Africa and in Asia outside of China. Overall, in the absence of new policies, the number of people relying on biomass will increase from 2.5 to 2.7 billion by 2030
Due to difficulties in collecting accurate information on woodfuel consumption,
care is required in interpreting data. For example, recent increases in international energy prices have reduced the rate at which woodfuel users have been shifting to cleaner and more efficient fuels for cooking and heating (IEA, 2006).
BOX 3: Impediments to accurate woodfuel information
Statistical information on woodfuel consumption has always been difficult to obtain. The main reasons are:
- High intensity surveys are necessary to collect accurate information since woodfuel production and consumption vary greatly across locations and at different times of the year.
- Woodfuel is mostly collected for the collector’s own use and not sold in specific locations, such as markets, shops or factories, which would facilitate collection of information.
- Because of the low price of woodfuel in most countries, the sector is of little economic importance and investment in collection of statistics is therefore considered of little value.
- Many countries do not have the financial and human resources required to collect woodfuel information, especially as the countries where woodfuel is most important may also be the poorest.
- There is often poor coordination between institutions with an interest in the sector (e.g. government agencies dealing with agriculture, forestry, energy and rural development), and the benefit of information collection may be insufficient for any one agency.
- Many government forestry agencies focus their efforts on commercial wood production and neglect non-commercial forestry outputs.
- Information about woodfuel suffers from a lack of clear definitions, measurement conventions and conversion factors, which creates difficulties in comparing statistics across regions and over time.
- Because of widespread illegal logging, production may be under-declared and therefore the extent of wood residues available for energy use may be underestimated.
Source: Broadhead, Bahdon and Whiteman, 2001