Proceedings of the
Second International Energy 2030 Conference,
November 4-5, 2008, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
Biomass as Renewable Energy for Sustainability
Prof. Ramesh, K. Agarwal
Washington University in St. Louis, USA
Biomass resources are potentially one of the world’s largest and most sustainable energy source, which broadly consist of agricultural, forestry and livestock residues, agricultural crops (cereals and sugar crops e.g.) and oil-bearing plants (rapeseed and algae e.g.), and organic municipal and industrial waste. The estimated worldwide annual bioenergy potential is 500 Exa-Joule (~1.4 x 1014 KW-hr), of which 230 Exa-Joule can be considered available on a sustainable basis at competitive prices. At present approximately 9.2% of the world energy needs are met by biomass, of which 9% is obtained from “plant biomass” used directly for cooking and heating primarily in the third-world countries and 0.2% is used as biofuel created mainly from agricultural crops. It is forecasted that the share of biomass in the total energy demand by 2030 will be between 15 to 20%. Depending upon the type of biomass, biochemical, thermochemical and other physical/chemical processes can be applied to create transportation fuels (ethanol and biodiesel), biogas, methanol and hydrogen, and solid fuels. However, significant technology development challenges need to be addressed for biomass to become a major source of energy by 2030. The paper addresses the current state of technology in bioenergy production depending upon the biomass type and its usage (for electricity generation or as transportation fuel) and the challenges ahead. The impact of biomass energy on environment (for example on GHG emissions), and food and agriculture is also discussed. The generation of biofuels from food crops has become a hotly debated topic worldwide because of its potential impact on commodity prices and food supply. The paper summarizes the current worldwide efforts towards using biomass as an energy source, the associated technological challenges, environmental implications, economic and political implications (since the current investment in biofuels remains highly dependent on government subsidy in largest ethanol and biodiesel producing countries and there are trade restrictions in the form of import tariffs), issues related to energy security, and outlook for 2030.