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Future of Biomass Energy in Asia

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Since the discovery of fossil fuel (petrol/gaso- line/diesel, etc.), several micro-evolutions have hap- pened in all aspects of life. Many of today’s developed countries owe their growth to energy resources such as coal and oil. Most of the heavy industries grew on the backbone of these sources of energy and used it to build the economy of their respective nations. The developing countries too are go- ing through these very stages, consuming fossil fuels, and guzzling oil to sustain their development. However, in today’s scenario of expensive fossil fuel, they are increasingly turning towards traditional energy sources.

Understanding Biomass energy

Bio energy is defined as the energy derived from energy resources (biomass) that are biological as well as renewable. Bio energy is unique in the sense that it is convertible into two forms. One is as direct heat and the second is conversion into electricity for distribution to con- sumers. Additionally, these are convert- ible into transportable feedstock much like coal for generating bio energy. Some examples of solid biofuels are in the sol- id form such as fuel wood, wood pellets, charcoal, and briquettes. Liquid biofuels exist in the form of bioethanol as well as biodiesel.

Sources for biomass energy

Biofuel source classification is three tiered: agro-based fuel generation, wood- based fuel generation, and bio waste or by-products generated within municipali- ties.

The use of biomass in the present context

Biomass energy has vast appeal amongst developed countries and is a popular al- ternative in developing countries. The reasons for its wide spread acceptance is because it is highly affordable and second, it is renewable. However, the major thrust on biomass is it has very little carbon foot- print. When the entire world is engaged in ensuring that carbon emissions are cut down to minimum levels, this aspect of biomass energy finds universal endorse- ments from consumers and environmen- talists too.

Asia and China are the leading consum- ers of this energy. Around the Asia-Pacific region, the TPES for combustible energy is close to 38 percent. In Southeast Asia, as well as in China, the combustible energy consumption is 15 percent and in South Asia, it is only 14 percent.

Nature of wood fuel consumption in Asian neighbors

Fuel wood, as well as charcoal, con- sumption in the Asia-Pacific region is at 41 percent or close to 787 million metric tons of the entire world production of this type of fuel. The reason for such high con- sumption is attributed to the high popu- lation – the world’s three most populous countries (Indonesia, India and China) belong to this region and the amount of consumption of biofuel is reflected here. Close to 60 percent of the populations of these two countries reside in rural envi- ronments using combustible energy re- sources, mainly wood, as their traditional source of energy.

Almost zero consumption of wood as fuel by 2020

There is a noticeable trend in the pat- tern of wood fuel consumption. Increas- ing urbanization and migration away from rural areas is leading to lower rates of consumption of wood fuel. The em- phasis in the municipalities is towards charcoal, kerosene and liquefied petro- leum gas. A very important aspect of the Philippines energy resources utilization is in the use of wood fuel. However, the greatest consumer trend is fast changing and migrating towards greener fuel al- ternatives like biomass energy. The con- sumption of wood fuel is almost going to be insignificant in the next decade.

Biomass energy is a better alternative to wood fuel

Biomass energy is going to be the en- ergy source of the future regardless of the economic development stage of the coun- try adopting this alternative. The first logical reason for using biomass as fuel and other energy purposes is for its mini- mum emissions of greenhouse gases. It is, therefore, an immediate personal contri- bution for the consumer of such energy towards sustained environmental growth. This again, is a double prong concept for developed and developing countries. Bio- mass is simply the most affordable energy alternative for developing countries with the only other option being the inefficient use of energy.

For developed nations, choosing bio- mass energy as an alternative is a strate- gic decision to buffer them from the mar- ket power that oil rich countries wield from time to time. This will help them in strengthening their energy supply as well as lowering their dependancy on fos- sil fuels from other countries.

Two final driving forces for developed countries to switch to biomass energy have been the arbitrary price rise as well as the disruptions in the supply of fossil fuel.

Two-thirds of the global rural popula- tion lives in the Asia-pacific region and their only affordable energy resource re- mains to be wood fuel; however, the emis- sions it produces like carbon monoxide, poly aromatic hydrocarbons as well as formaldehyde, are known to cause several health hazards including respiratory dis- eases, asthma, tuberculosis and some na- tal health complications.

Forecast for Bio energy

The Asia-Pacific region is home to half the world’s population and energy resourc- es remain the core of sustained develop- ment of this region. Hence, the thrust to move away from the higher green house gas emitting energy resources and find the right mix of energy resource alterna- tives is the way to go for zero carbon foot- prints. Besides, better energy resource al- ternatives such as biomass energy, hydro energy and wind energy can definitely be explored for empowering the urban poor. Urbanization is an essential stage of de- velopment in all societies and this is true of the islands and innumerable small na- tions on the path of development.

Alternate energy sources will remain the core strategy to achieve global carbon emissions in 2050. These levels need to match the same levels as in 2000 though the demand for energy will have increased substantially. By using multiple energy resources, energy consumption becomes efficient. This will also contribute to low- ering the carbon intensity. Therefore, bio energy will be a highly viable alternative and will definitely contribute to the sus- tainable growth of the region.

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