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close this bookRenewable biological systems for alternative sustainable energy production. (FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin - 128) (1997)
close this folderChapter 1 - Biological energy production
View the document1.1 Energy and environmental issues
Open this folder and view contents1.2 Photosynthesis and biomass
View the document1.3 General problems
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1.1 Energy and environmental issues

The widespread use of fossil fuels, has brought numerous benefits to industrialized societies. Large amounts of agricultural, domestic and industrial wastes generated in these countries as a result of development, have potentially detrimental effects both on the environment and on human health. Itai-itai and Minamata diseases in Japan, are just two examples of the effects of air and water pollution on human health. The importance of protecting the environment and restoring environmental damage cannot be overemphasized.

In recent years, environmental pollution has become a global problem. Internationalization of industrial and social activities has given rise to problems such as global warming, desertification, and acid deposition. These global problems are rooted in the materially-rich lifestyles which are supported by abundant and wasteful use of fossil fuels in industrialized countries. Rapidly increasing industrial activities in China, India, and in other developing countries implicates that these countries will inevitably contribute to deterioration of the global environment and to destruction of the global ecosystem. Lifestyle changes, and changes in our key industrial systems are required in order to minimize the impact of environmental pollution. The recycling of materials, and thus minimizing the generation of waste, is a basic concept which must be implemented in order to meet the new demands of sustainable development in both industrialized and developing countries.

Mechanisms for implementing this concept and for establishing environmentally compatible technologies which support the future "recycling" world are required. Systems, which utilize energies produced from biomass are typical examples of energy recycling systems. Biotechnology is one of the future-oriented technologies, and one that will play a major role in the exploitation of biomass energy. All biomass (plant, animal and microbial), originates through CO2 fixation by photosynthesis. Biomass utilization is consequently included in the global carbon cycle of the biosphere. Biomass energy in developing countries, originates from fuelwood, animal wastes, and agricultural residues, and is primarily utilized for activities which are essential to survival, such as cooking and obtaining water. Improvements in the living standards in these countries will result in the non-essential use of energy. Development of technologies that efficiently produce biomass, and convert it to more convenient forms of energy is therefore very important.