How sustainable is biomass as a renewable energy source?

GMI Energy Expert

Researching the use of biomass in energy production I have found a lot of contention and passionate views on the sustainability of this energy source, particularly where large power stations including the likes of Drax are in the process of switching a significant proportion of their fuel to biomass. As always the situation is a lot more complex than it first appears…

Before we launch into the debate lets first take a look at what ‘biomass fuel’ encompasses and what makes it ‘renewable’

TreesBiomass can be extracted from a variety of sources including crop residues (straw etc.), woody biomass (sawdust etc.), urban waste (untreated wood and paper), forest residues, and short rotation (re-planted or coppiced forest). Some biomass can be directly burned to produce energy; some can be converted into another energy product like biofuel and some can be anaerobically digested to produce methane, which can then be burned to…

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South Africa's Progress in Renewable Energy

South Africa, the most industrialized country in Africa, is highly dependent on conventional fuels which make it one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Coal provides around 75% of the fossil fuel demand and accounts for 90% of power generation in the country. A smooth transition to a low-carbon society requires diversification of energy resources to other energy forms, especially renewable energy. The country is endowed with abundant sunshine, good wind regimes and attractive biomass feedstocks which could provide sufficient means to replenish energy supplies and counter environmental degradation.

According to the Government’s White Paper on Renewable Energy Policy (2003), renewable energy projects are aimed to deliver the equivalent of 10,000 GWh by 2013, from wind, solar, biomass and hydro resources. Some of the larger projects that are under development include the Darling wind farm and the Bethlehem hydro scheme. Other projects such as landfill to gas and existing hydro-electric power stations are already making a contribution. South Africa, like other developing countries, faces the dual challenge of pursuing economic growth and environmental protection, and sustainable energy systems offer the possibility of resolving this problem.

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