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New research from the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland evaluates the role of biomass co-firing strategies in achieving Indonesia’s climate targets

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New research by the Center for Global Sustainability (CGS) at the University of Maryland takes a critical look into the viability and emissions reduction potential of biomass waste co-firing at coal plants in Indonesia. 

Despite Indonesia’s ambitious plans to increase biomass co-firing, uncertainties exist regarding whether this is a plausible and effective abatement strategy due to the limited availability of biomass waste and difficulty tracking land use change emissions. 

With a young and still growing coal fleet, biomass co-firing is becoming an increasingly popular abatement strategy to help Indonesia wean off coal while seeing out the lifetime of plants, thereby minimizing early retirement costs. Indonesia recently announced plans to triple its biomass consumption in power generation, but it is unclear whether the country’s current biomass production can fulfill this ever-increasing demand.

“Biomass production is intrinsically tied to land use, so pursuing biomass as an effective mitigation tool requires sourcing through waste from existing agricultural practices rather than land conversion to generate biomass,” said Jiehong Lou, CGS Assistant Research Professor and report co-author. “Successfully decarbonizing Indonesia’s energy sector requires avoiding additional emissions from land use change, which remains Indonesia’s largest sector for carbon emissions.”

The analysis found that even at the lowest co-firing ratios, the available biomass supply struggles to meet demand in East Indonesia. With biomass production expanding, Indonesia will be unable to meet its biomass targets without significant land conversion, which would transfer emissions from the energy sector to the land use sector, making biomass co-firing an unsustainable mitigation strategy.

“Our analysis found that deforestation to produce wood pellets for biomass production will result in estimated emissions of 13.3, 43.9, or 108.3 million tCO₂ across three scenarios of varying biomass demand,” said Claire Squire, CGS Research Associate and report lead author. “These emissions undermine the ability of biomass co-firing to contribute to overall decarbonization and highlight the need to take land-use change emissions into greater consideration to protect Indonesia's carbon sink and preserve biodiversity.”

To improve the effectiveness of biomass co-firing as an abatement strategy, this policy brief recommends: 

  • Biomass must be sourced from residues rather than energy plantation forests (EPFs). 
  • The state-owned power company, Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), should implement programs to finance the procurement and transport of feedstocks from collection points to coal plants to support the increased use of biomass residues.
  • Countries importing bioenergy or biofuel to meet renewable targets must consider biomass sourcing and land use impacts in the source country.

As biomass co-firing runs the risk of increasing carbon emissions, any calculation of co-firing as a mitigation tool must accurately account for land use change emissions and other associated production emissions (i.e. transportation). Biomass can be an effective mitigation tool, but more research, comprehensive emissions accounting and monitoring, and a robust national policy are all necessary to abate energy sector emissions.

Download the policy brief to learn more and look forward to more products from CGS’s Indonesia Program in the future.

For Media Inquiries:
Shannon Kennedy
Strategic Engagement Manager, CGS
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