Forests as a source of biofuels

For thousands of years wood has been a major energy source. But in developed countries fossil fuels have become dominant, with renewables making up only 3.9 percent of all fuels in terms of oil equivalents in 2007 (International Energy Agency, personal communication, 2008). In contrast, in many developing countries wood remains the predominant household fuel for cooking and heating. Of the renewables, wood is second only to hydropower in importance globally (see Table 6.1).

One of the ways that biomass, provided by plants or forests, can contribute to tackling climate change is as a source of liquid fuel to replace fossil fuels used in transport. Before undertaking an investigation of what might be the specific future role for forests in providing renewable energy, it is necessary to examine in some depth the global trends in overall biofuel production, presently dominated by annual crops.

Biofuels cost more than other forms of renewable energy but they are the only form that can address the challenges of the transport sector, including its almost complete reliance on oil and the fact that greenhouse reductions in this sector are difficult to obtain. Both the US and the EU have announced policies designed to greatly increase the contribution that biofuels20 make to the energy requirements of transport, summarized in Box 6.1.

Biofuels require large subsidies to be competitive. Government-supported policies could lead to an increase in the share of biofuels in global transport from 1 percent to 6 percent in 2020 (World Bank, 2008a: 2). The willingness of governments to support biofuel production has four main drivers:

First, industrial nations, as typified by the US and EU members, are heavily reliant on imports of crude oil to fuel their large transport sectors. This makes their economies vulnerable to supply shortages caused by the depletion of global oil reserves or by political instability in oil-rich regions.

Second, the biofuels are expected to effect a saving in greenhouse gases, which is an important criterion given that all major countries except the US have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and are committed to reducing their emissions during 2008-2012 and beyond.

Table 6.1 World renewable energy consumption

Quadrillion BTU

Change 2006/2005 (%)

Biomass

3.277

6.2

Biofuels

0.758

27.6

Waste

0.404

0.3

Wood derived fuels

2.114

-0.1

Geothermal energy

0.349

1.8

Hydroelectric conventional

2.89

6.9

Solar/Photovoltaic energy

0.07

6.5

Wind energy

0.258

45.1

Total

6.844

6.9

Source: Energy Information Administration (2007: Table 1).

Source: Energy Information Administration (2007: Table 1).

Third, the volatility of feedstock prices and energy input prices.

Fourth, biofuel-supporting policies will boost rural net farm incomes and employment opportunities in regional areas.

Getting Started With Solar

Getting Started With Solar

Do we really want the one thing that gives us its resources unconditionally to suffer even more than it is suffering now? Nature, is a part of our being from the earliest human days. We respect Nature and it gives us its bounty, but in the recent past greedy money hungry corporations have made us all so destructive, so wasteful.

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