Harnessing the potential of biomass


Harnessing the potential of biomass
Shafiqul Alam

There is an increased awareness on the need to provide alternative sources of fuel and energy. Not only the availability of fossil fuels is in question, but also the natural ecological balance of the planet is in the debate. Taking into consideration that burning fossil fuels are liable for greenhouse effect, countries around the world are exploring biomass as a safer alternative.

Biomass is recognised as regenerative (renewable) organic material that can be used to produce energy. These sources include aquatic or land vegetation, residues from forestry or agriculture, animal waste and municipal waste. With this in mind, harnessing natural energy has become the focus of scientists in an effort to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels and find a safer and cleaner alternative source of energy.

One of the main benefits of biomass fuel over fossil fuel can be best understood in terms of greenhouse gases. While both biomass fuels and fossil fuels release about the same amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when burned, there is a distinct difference in the effect they each have on the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuel releases carbon dioxide but biomass fuel, on the other hand, releases carbon dioxide that is captured during photosynthesis and it tends to equal itself out. Nothing ‘new’ is being sent into the atmosphere, thus greatly reducing the greenhouse gas effect on the ozone layer.

The other benefit of biomass is quite significant. With heavy dependence on petroleum products for fuel, there is always a tension between the need for petroleum and money. As biomass fuel is readily available, the reliance on external sources of fossil fuel can be reduced.

At this point, Bangladesh is facing problems on multiple fronts such as power crisis, lack of alternative sources of energy, increasing fuel import and the like. Now the question comes — how will it be possible to provide electricity to the ever increasing population, a majority of whom live in villages and rural areas?

Energy consumption is certainly growing every day due to industrialisation and all other associated facilities installed or to be installed. To keep pace with increased gap between demand and supply of electricity, some quick rental power plants have been installed, but quick rental power plants are increasing problems instead of solving given that the option is draining money at an increasing rate. However, to minimise subsidy the government has increased power tariff several times in 2011, but the power sector is still far from being satisfactory.

Biomass resources are potentially the country’s largest renewable energy source — annual biomass amounts to thousands of tonnes. Biomass conversion to fuel and chemicals is an important alternative to replace oil, gas and coal. Under such circumstances, small units of biomass power generation system can be installed in remote areas to meet its demand or a part of its demand so that pressure on the national grid will be low.

It is notable that more than a billion dollar is being provided by the government as subsidy to facilitate quick rental power plants which are not sustainable in the long run. At the same time, the burden on general people is increasing. Moreover, at current rate of gas exploration, finding huge gas is a distant dream.

Against this backdrop, biomass provides a cleaner and renewable source of energy with the ability to reduce dependence on imported oil. More and more uses are being discovered as research continues in this field with the current emphasis being placed on the fact that biomass is not only reasonably priced but also a safer substitute for oil and natural gas. With this in mind, new bio-fuels will become increasingly popular in the future which will in turn provide a solution to some of the current problems such as, sources of alternative energy and ecological and atmospheric concerns.

(The writer can be reached at email: shafiqul0032@yahoo.com)


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