Turning over a new leaf for future energy supplies

December 15, 2008

A global energy supply based on biomass grown to generate electricity and produce fuel is a real possibility. According to Prof. Jürgen O. Metzger from Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg in Germany and Prof. Aloys Huettermann from the University of Goettingen in Germany, it is both a sustainable and economical scenario, contrary to current thinking which suggests it is unrealistic. Their findings(1) are published online this week in Springer's journal, Naturwissenschaften.

Fossil fuels including oil, natural gas and coal - which provide almost all of our global energy needs - will be completely exhausted in the next 75 years based on our current consumption levels, and most likely before then bearing in mind the increasing energy demand worldwide. What's then? It is commonly assumed that the amount of biomass that can be grown on available land in competition to food is so limited that a scenario based on biomass as the major source of energy is unrealistic.

Metzger and Huettermann show that enough biomass can be grown on land previously degraded by human activities in historical times to meet the global energy demand predicted by the International Energy Agency in the Reference Scenario for 2030 - and what's more, this energy can be produced both sustainably and economically.

The solution is to plant fast-growing trees on degraded areas, and harvest the biomass for energy usage.This afforestation would not compete with the need for arable land for food production. The authors argue that the investment required for afforestation and transformation of the biomass to electrical energy, heat, fuels and chemical feedstock is actually sustainable and not more, probably even less, than what would need to be invested in infrastructure for non-sustainable fossil energy. The continuous use of biomass as an energy source is also carbon neutral which means that the energetic usage produces not more CO2 as used for the growth of the respective biomass, thus slowing down and stopping the build-up of CO2 and even slowly reducing the CO2 content in the atmosphere. Their scenario would also have a number of additional advantages, including a convenient way of storing energy, regenerating the global water and especially drinking water resources and controlling soil degradation.

Other renewable energies, including solar, tidal and wind power will contribute to the energy mix, making the biomass scenario even more realistic. The authors do concede that new technologies will be required to convert the chemical energy stored in biomass to electrical energy more efficiently.

They add that "the scenario of afforestation for energy use will be an important step to realize the United Nations programs to combat desertification and deforestation, without additional costs."
-end-
Reference
1. Metzger JO & Huettermann A (2008). Sustainable global energy supply based on lignocellulosic biomass from afforestation of degraded areas. Naturwissenschaften; DOI 10.1007/s00114-008-0479-4

The full-text article is available to journalists as a pdf.

Springer

Related Biomass Articles from Brightsurf:

Bound for the EU, American-made biomass checks the right boxes
A first-of-its-kind study published in the journal Scientific Reports finds that wood produced in the southeastern United States for the EU's renewable energy needs has a net positive effect on US forests--but that future industry expansion could warrant more research.

The highest heat-resistant plastic ever is developed from biomass
The use of biomass-derived plastics is one of the prime concerns to establish a sustainable society, which is incorporated as one of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Laser technology measures biomass in world's largest trees
Laser technology has been used to measure the volume and biomass of giant Californian redwood trees for the first time, records a new study by UCL researchers.

Inducing plasma in biomass could make biogas easier to produce
Producing biogas from the bacterial breakdown of biomass presents options for a greener energy future, but the complex composition of biomass comes with challenges.

Microbes working together multiply biomass conversion possibilities
Non-edible plants are a promising alternative to crude oil, but their heterogenous composition can be a challenge to producing high yields of useful products.

Evergreen idea turns biomass DNA into degradable materials
A Cornell-led collaboration is turning DNA from organic matter -- such as onions, fish and algae -- into biodegradable gels and plastics.

Upgrading biomass with selective surface-modified catalysts
Loading single platinum atoms on titanium dioxide promotes the conversion of a plant derivative into a potential biofuel.

A novel biofuel system for hydrogen production from biomass
A recent study, affiliated with South Korea's Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) has presented a new biofuel system that uses lignin found in biomass for the production of hydrogen.

Biomass fuels can significantly mitigate global warming
'Every crop we tested had a very significant mitigation capacity despite being grown on very different soils and under natural climate variability,' says Dr.

Traditional biomass stoves shown to cause lung inflammation
Traditional stoves that burn biomass materials and are not properly ventilated, which are widely used in developing nations where cooking is done indoors, have been shown to significantly increase indoor levels of harmful PM2.5 (miniscule atmospheric particulates) and carbon monoxide (CO) and to stimulate biological processes that cause lung inflammation and may lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to new research published online in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Read More: Biomass News and Biomass Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.