Limits to the potential of bio-fuels and bio-sequestration of carbon

Graeme I. Pearman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


This document examines bio-physical limits of bio-fuels and bio-sequestration of carbon by examining available solar radiation and observed efficiencies with which natural ecosystems and agricultural systems convert that energy to biomass. It compares these energy/carbon exchanges with national levels of energy use and carbon emissions for Australia, Brazil, China, Japan, Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States. Globally primary energy consumption (related carbon emissions) is currently equivalent to ~0.06% of the incident solar energy, and 43% of the energy (carbon) captured by photosynthesis. The nations fall into three categories. Those with primary energy consumption that is: 1-10% (Japan, Korea and Singapore); ~0.1% (China, UK and the US) and; 0.1-0.01% (Australia, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Sweden) of incident solar radiation. The percentage of energy captured in biomass follows this pattern, but generally lower by ~3 orders of magnitude. The energy content of traded wheat, corn and rice represents conversion efficiencies of solar radiation of 0.08-0.17% and for sugar close to 1%, ignoring energy use in production and conversion of biomass to fuels. The study implies that bio-fuels or bio-sequestration can only be a small part of an inclusive portfolio of actions towards a low carbon future and minimised net emissions of carbon to the atmosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-535
Number of pages13
JournalEnergy Policy
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • Bio-fuels
  • Carbon bio-sequestration
  • Net primary production

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