|Application of Biomass-energy Technologies (Habitat, 1993)|
There is an enormous untapped biomass potential, particularly in improved utilization of existing residues, and forest and other land resources, and in higher plant productivity. Modernization of bioenergy production and use could bring substantial social and economic benefits to both rural urban areas. As Paszior and Kristoferson (1990, p. 28) put it, "if biomass energy systems are well managed, they can form part of a matrix of energy supply which is environmentally sound and also contributes to sustainable development." If biomass is to make any significant energy contribution to development however, it must be produced in greater quantities. It must also provide efficient, sustainable, economically justifiable and environmentally-sound energy systems whilst ensuring that other more traditional modes of production and uses also are efficient and sustainable.
It is expected that demand for biomass will rise considerably in the future, because of: (a) population growth, particularly in developing countries; (b) greater use in the industrialized countries due partly to environmental considerations; and (c) technological developments which could allow either the production of new or improved biomass fuels, or the improved conversion of biofuels into more efficient energy carriers thus stimulating demand for feedstock. But biomass energy still faces many barriers - economic, social, institutional and technical. It is a large and varied source of energy at very uneven stages of development, both with respect to scale and technological requirements. Enhanced biomass availability on a sustainable basis will require support and development of new biomass systems.
Wider commercial exploitation on a sustainable basis awaits the development and application of modern technology to enable biomass to compete with conventional energy carriers. It is most likely that many developments and deployment of modernized renewable resources will be led by the industrialized countries, particularly the United States, Western Europe and Japan (Grubb, 1990). The extent of the near-term contribution of renewable energy will, in turn, be largely determined by the length to which North Americans, Western Europeans and Japanese are successful in directing their institutes to foster the growth of renewables.
"This will determine whether renewable energy supplies in general, and biomass in particular, will grow incrementally by the sheer force of their market competitiveness, or whether policies will be developed now to recognize their inherent environmental benefits as well and allow them to develop more rapidly (Racer et al, 1989, p.15).
Application of modern biomass energy technologies in many developing countries will usually also depend strongly on foreign finance, because of the capital and other requirements of many modernized renewable energies (Grubb, 1990). However, in the case of the more traditional and also less capital-intensive technologies, innovation and adaptations, local skills and entrepreneurs can play a leading role. Biomass production and use, in an economic and sustainable manner, should thus be seen as an opportunity for entrepreneurs of all descriptions especially since biomass is so widely distributed and used throughout the world.
Many attempts have been made to introduce new energy technologies, but in most cases, factors external to the technology seem to have played a greater role with respect to acceptability than the technology itself. This is particularly true with respect to economics. It can be argued that one of the major barriers to the commercialization of renewable energy technologies is that current energy markets in most cases ignore and/or do not pay the social and environmental costs and risks associated with fossil fuel use. This is especially relevant to biomass energy which has many environmental and social benefits. If "externalities" such as employment, import substitution, energy security, environment and so on are considered, then the economics change usually in favour of the biomass systems. Social and Land-use policies must also be given high priority.
Programmes which are currently commercial, such as ethanol and electricity production, can be analysed in both developing and developed countries and some general conclusions can be drawn. The Brazilian ethanol case demonstrates the need for a clear government commitment, the vulnerability of such large programmes to short-term market fluctuations and the inherent difficulty of long-term energy planning. In Zimbabwe, the State played Largely a regulatory role to create the acceptable market conditions for the ethanol project to succeed, leaving the funding entirely to the private sector. The success of the Pura biogas project in India and the failure of the gasification projects in the Philippines highlight the importance of social factors and long-term commitment in successful energy and development projects.
Finally, from the results of the analysis of biomass energy projects in developing countries it can be concluded that the requirements for successful biomass projects depend mainly on the careful consideration of local socioeconomic factors, maximum participation and control by local people from the outset (including initiation and planning), the generation of shortterm local benefits within a longer-term context, and economic viability. It is of paramount importance to take a long-term view that includes sustainable development and environmental accountability, whilst allowing for flexible aims, replicability and multiple benefits.