The industrialised world is in the early stages of a revolution which will see it switch from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy over the next 50 years. The scale and scope of the transition will be enormous.
The need for change is driven by:
- Global Energy Demand, which is expected to double between 2005 and 2050 and will require new sources of fuel to meet the demand
- Fossil Fuel Prices, which in spite of recent price falls, are expected to continue a sharp upward trend over the next 10 years and will remain highly volatile in the short term
- Security of Supply, given that the EU and the US are over-dependent on imported oil and gas from Russia and the Middle East and are highly vulnerable to volatility in prices and the prevailing geo-political situation
- Climate Change, which demands huge reductions in the level of carbon emissions by governments worldwide in order to stem rising global temperatures
In short, the switch to renewable sources of energy is both a regulatory and an economic imperative.
Bioenergy is the oldest source of renewable energy known to mankind. There is a range of options in terms of biomass fuel type, including:
- Wood chip
- Wood pellets
- Wood shavings/residues
- Energy crops (e.g. miscanthus, willow)
- Empty fruit bunches (EFB), e.g. shell fibre from oil palm production
- Refuse-derived fuel (RFD) from municipal, industrial or agricultural waste
The energy contained within this organic material is released through a conversion process such as combustion, pyrolysis or gasification.
Biomass has a number of critical features as a source of energy:
- it is carbon neutral, in that the carbon produced by combustion is naturally balanced out by the carbon captured during photosynthesis thereby creating a closed carbon cycle
- it is completely sustainable, in that fresh fuel supply can be generated quickly from local agricultural/forestry activity
- it is flexible, in that it can be used as a fuel for heat, power and transport purposes
- it is reliable, it that it can be stored and used on demand unlike wind
Its disadvantage compared to wind, wave and solar energy, is that it has a finite capacity. As such, it will be utilised as part of the overall renewable energy mix for applications where it best fits, and the key for users will be access to a guaranteed supply of fuel in sufficient volumes and at predictable prices over the long-term.