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close this bookBoiling Point No. 43 - Fuel Options for Household Energy (ITDG - ITDG, 1999, 44 p.)
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Letters to the editor

Environmental implications of the energy ladder in rural India

The paper on page 3 of 'Boiling Point' No. 42 (Spring 1999) provides an incomplete picture of greenhouse gas emissions of fuel-wood. Only effects at the consumption side are being stated, whereas effects at the supply side are being ignored. This reflects widespread misconceptions, leading to wrong conclusions and wrong policies for biomass energy. Effects on the supply side are:

· Wood which is not being used as a fuel will eventually decompose and hence release most of its carbon into the atmosphere anyway;

· A large part of woodfuels is being supplied sustainably, namely from crop lands, home gardens, etc. Hence, whatever is utilized is allowed to regrow and recapture carbon from the atmosphere.

The net emission effect of supply and consumption of woodfuels is difficult to calculate, but for sure it is far less than the paper suggests. (Re: Regional Study on Wood Energy Today and Tomorrow in Asia, published by FAO-RWEDP, Bangkok, October 1997).

Also the statement that '... biomass becomes increasingly scarce...' must be challenged. The 'State of India's Environment 5' published by the Centre for Science and Environment (CES), Delhi, 1999, reports surveys from the National Council of Applied Economic Research. It was found that 'the share of firewood in the form of logs went up dramatically from 18.95% to 32.49% in rural household consumption' (over the period 1979-1993). The same surveys show that woodfuel supply from own farmland has increased considerably, which means that people produce their own woodfuel in the form of logs. According to CES this indicates that more fuelwood is available since the early 1990's and 'people are moving up the rural energy ladder by using higher quality fuels like logs'. Whatever reasons are behind, it seems that the fuelwood crisis had begun to ease in many rural areas in India

W.S. Hulscher, FAO Regional Wood Energy Development Programme in Asia, Bangkok, June, 1999

New reader's comment

(Mr Stokes' article on methanol appears earlier in this edition)

I just received the two copies of Boiling Point. Thanks so much and let me congratulate you. This is no dreamer's journal. This is hard hitting, down-to-earth information. The two sample issues contain much that will help our Project Gaia.

The costs for charcoal in Mozambique in Boiling Point show something else: biomass is cheap because labor is cheap (never mind deforestation - that's another problem). We can turn biomass into methanol at 50% efficiency and burn it at 60%, overall 30%. Conversion to charcoal is about 30% and burning same about 20% or 6% overall, a 5/1 advantage for methanol. Even if only 3/1 (as we conservatively assume) it is a good deal with environmental benefits a strong plus.

Wood delivered in Mozambique calculates to cost $14 per dry ton, or about $10 per wet ton. With $10 for biomass delivered, methanol could be made locally on a cash cost basis for 25-30 cents per US gallon or about 7-8 cents per liter. Adding in capital charges (long term low interest finance with 30% local equity at 20% before tax) would add about 12 cents/liter or a total of 19-20 cents/liter, enough for a family of 5 for a day. The employment would be large. Even if we go to plantation biomass and double the biomass price it would only add 3-4 cents/liter and greatly increase employment thereby. This is how real the methanol-for-domestic-fuel concept is.

C.A. Stokes